WHEN Noel O'Dempsey invested in his own rural property a decade ago he was optimistically fulfilling a lifelong dream.
With his wife Margaret, he purchased a 3440ha grazing property, Linallie, at Limevale south of Inglewood in May 2000.
The purchase came after 20 years of working and saving in his role as a veterinarian with the Department of Primary Industries at postings across western Queensland.
But just two months after the couple took over, Linallie was drought declared, a status that would last until 2010.
A practical bloke, Dr O'Dempsey has never been one to complain about the unpredictability of the seasons.
Yet he admits the run of dry years was testing.
But the upside, he explained, was it ensured his operation was geared towards efficiency, with a firm focus on issues such as breeder fertility, stocking rates and effectively utilising pasture.
It was these interests which spurred his involvement in the Australian Wool Innovation's Leading Sheep program five years ago.
"We run both sheep and cattle at Linallie," Dr O'Dempsey said.
"But I became involved with the Leading Sheep program to learn about the latest industry research and developments."
Today he is one the primary facilitators for the program in our region.
"Producers are interested in improvement and I wanted to help bring research information back to grassroots levels."
These days the O'Dempseys' sheep operation has two strands: a fine wool Merino flock and a Suffolk cross fat lamb production system.
"We are currently down on sheep numbers, so running about 4500 head on Linallie, plus forestry country and some agistment blocks," he said.
"Like many people, I am reluctant to buy in sheep: I don't want to pay $100 for wethers for wild dogs to eat.
"We do have an occasional wild dog problem so that does make you very conscious of capital outlays."
Instead the O'Dempseys have a self-replacing flock retaining their property-bred breeders as they steadily rebuild numbers.
"We have bought in wethers occasionally but it is not viable to purchase them with the current wool prices."
Last year the couple sold their 14.2-17 micron fine wool for their highest price in a decade.
But when wool prices fell and fat lamb prices came back $45 and $50 a head on last season's rate they started reassessing their situation.
"Selling fat lambs was always a safety valve for us," Dr O'Dempsey explained.
"We sold when we needed to, but it's a tough game."
He said the interest in both re-building flocks and returning to the sheep and wool industry had been motivated by the historically high prices of 2011.
"I think industry confidence levels are reasonable and that is a result of having the best two seasons in over a decade as well as the historical improvements in prices," Dr O'Dempsey said.
"But the reality is industry confidence is very much tempered by the wild dog problem.