The Makers: Nigel and Emma Roberts
Ever wondered what goes on before our Shleep products are ready for sale? In this series, The Makers, we offer a unique first-hand insight into the Australian wool industry, in partnership with the talented
Chantel Renae Photography.
There is no place like home, just ask Emma and Nigel Roberts from ‘Dunbogan’, Elong Elong, New South Wales. Both the children of woolgrowers, Em and Nige left their family properties and the wool industry behind in their twenties, heading north to Darwin for a sea change. Meeting, falling in love, marrying and starting a family, there was only one place they wanted to raise their family. Home.
“We are probably a bit of a funny situation here,” said Nige. “I’m a fourth-generation woolgrower, but we had the State Government buy our family farm eight years ago with intentions to establish a coal mine. Em and I were working away at the time, but soon an opportunity came up to lease back the family farm. We really wanted to do something for ourselves and leasing the farm was a good opportunity, but for us, also a risky one. The coal mine went to ruins and the State Government then sold everything back at public auction. We were able to buy our family home and the second block back in 2017. I grew up in this house, so it’s been a bit of a round-about way of coming back home.”
These days Emma and Nige – along with their two young children Angus and Marnie – are running 4000 Merino ewes that still pay homage to their heritage, but also meeting consumer demands from modern Merino wool.
“We are still using the same Merino bloodlines of 18 micron wool, that my dad introduced to a certain degree; it’s still our foundation. We have had some other influences in at certain times to correct where we are headed in the market, as dictated by the consumer. Dad stared the stud here in 1981 and his father had sheep before him as well. The ewe base is still pretty much the same.
“Wool is a consumer-driven market and we are using bloodlines now to direct them to what the consumer is wanting, like the wool they want to wear and sleep in. It’s great to see the increasing level of interest from young farmers wanting to re-establish their Merino enterprises. Due to the various climatic conditions we now experience throughout Australia the Merino is so adaptable and provides such a dual-purpose, sustainable product.”
A growing number of consumers are turning to wool at night, following positive research that shows sleeping on or under wool can soothe you to sleep 25% faster than sleeping with other fibres. Gone are the days of counting sheep to fall asleep, with studies showing wool helps keep the body in the thermal comfort zone thanks to the fibre’s superior breathability and moisture-wicking properties. And with consumers becoming increasingly concerned with where their clothing and products come from and how they are made, the fact that wool is a 100% natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre bodes well.
After all, who wants to sleep on plastic? That’s why at Shleep, we only choose the world’s best Merino wool for our bedding and baby products. We know that Australia’s 60,000+ woolgrowers – such as Nigel and Emma – not only produce the world’s most luxurious fibre, but genuinely care for the health and welfare of their sheep and the environment on which they live.
“With our sheep, one of the main things we look for is weight in the fleeces,” says Nige. “It’s taken a number of years of trial and error of genetics and experience that have led us to grow a heavy fleece. I love the luster of the fleeces; when you open it up and it pops out and hits you, especially when you’re not expecting it. That really defined crimp and softness is what we are after.”
This inherent natural 3D crimp of the fibre that Nige mentions is the reason why wool provides superior insulation which thus aids breathability. The crimp of the wool fibre traps pockets of still air, insulating your skin from the cold environment and keeping you warmer. This allows wool to maintain a drier microclimate next to skin, keeping you warm and dry.
As with many wool-growing families, tradition is strong – with a modern twist – at ‘Dunbogan’. With two children of their own now, Em and Nige are also looking further into the bigger picture and looking to take part in the tradition of passing down the family farm.
“It would be ideal if the kids wanted to take on the property, but if they don’t we will have a pretty good time when we retire I guess. There’s no pressure there though, we want our kids to have interest in what we do. Our ultimate goal is to establish something for them to take over. Gus is only six and has been developing a bit of an eye. He just got his first motorbike so he’s a bit more mobile around the farm now and a cheap little musterer.”