A sheep station is a large property (station, the equivalent of a ranch) in Australia or New Zealand whose main activity is the raising of sheep for their wool and meat. In Australia, sheep stations are usually in the south-east or south-west of the country. In New Zealand the Merinos are usually in the high country of the South Island. These properties may be thousands of square kilometres in size and run low stocking rates to be able to sustainably provide enough feed and water for the stock.
In the Australian and New Zealand context, shearing involves an annual muster of sheep to be shorn, and the shearing shed and shearers' quarters are an important part of the station. A station usually also includes a homestead, adjacent sheds, windmills, dams, silos and in many cases a landing strip available for use by the Royal Flying Doctor Service and other light aircraft. Some of these items have regional variants, usually to deal with climate extremes.
Similarly, where the climate and vegetation allow, especially north of the dog fence, cattle stations are similar but run beef cattle rather than sheep. Some properties are not exclusively sheep or cattle stations but may have a mix of cattle, sheep, cropping and even goats which makes the owner less vulnerable to changes in wool or beef prices.
Walter Peak is a notable old sheep station that was founded in 1860 on the south shore of Lake Wakatipu, South Island, New Zealand. It is 13 kilometres across Lake Wakatipu from Queenstown, 40 minutes steaming time on the historic TSS Earnslaw steamship.
Management of a sheep station
Management practices vary according to the location of the station and the season being experienced. For instance, drought necessitates decisions concerning the sale of stock or provision of supplementary feeding.
Routine procedures include supervising crutching, mating, shearing, treating for ticks, lice and maggots (if necessary), lambing and lamb marking. Lambs are weaned at about five months of age. Drenching for internal parasites is an important routine on a sheep station.
Other activities include ram buying and classing the sheep in order to determine the inferior types that are to be culled.
Crops and pastures are often also grown to provide additional feed for the sheep, especially those that will be raised and sold as prime lambs. Fences require regular inspections to locate and repair any damage that has been found. Sheep breeders may also need to undertake predatory animal control if crows, dingos or foxes are likely to be a problem.
The term generally used by agricultural and environmental professionals for sheep station forms of landholding is rangeland, but is not in general use by Australians. The term ranch is rarely, if ever, used. The term sheep run was also commonly used during the early settlement period to describe sheep stations operated by squatters.
For administrative purposes, many stations exist on pastoral leases, but in state government jurisdictions they are increasingly known as stations.
The word station is also a traditional Australian English term to denote a large and/or important landholding for any agricultural purpose.
The term Playing for sheep stations is used to denote a large or serious game.
Two well-known nineteenth century authors have written about life on a sheep station:
- Lady Barker Station Life in New Zealand and Station Amusements in New Zealand.
- Samuel Butler A First Year in the Canterbury Settlement and his novel Erewhon.
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- Cattle station
- List of pastoral leases in Western Australia
- List of ranches and stations
- Pastoral lease
- Sheep husbandry
- Sheep shearing
- Station (Australian agriculture)
- Station (New Zealand agriculture)
- Stockman (Australia)
- "Sheep at Sheep Station; Houses and Woods in Background, Australia". World Digital Library. 1900–1923. Retrieved 2013-07-04.
- "Cunha, Ton J.". World Book Encyclopaedia 24. USA: Field Enterprises. 1977. p. 1152. Wool production.
- Urdang, Lawrence. Hanks, Patrick, ed. Collins Dictionary of the English Language. G. a. Wilkes (Aust. cnsltnt). "An extensive coverage of contemporary international and Australian English"
- Tobruk Sheep Station — includes photo of stockman mustering sheep
- Sheep-dipping on the Orari Gorge Station (photo c1899)