Dowerin farmer Darrel Hudson’s strategy to pull back on his 2017 cropping program in favour of an increased focus on breeding SAMM and Dorper prime lambs, changed gears quickly when it did not rain on his Dowerin farms, in April, May or June.
Darrel Hudson with Ozzie and Charley
“We scratched in a cover crop of oats on the unseeded area and pulled out the tractors early in June, with only about three quarters of the reduced program complete,” Darrel said.
“We had already decided to increase sheep numbers and to reduce the cropping ratio to about 50 percent because of low grain prices and increasing risk. The hard decision was to send 238 of our prime SAMM and Dorper ewe lambs to WAMMCO - in case there was no further rain.”
A bonus, apart from averaging $155.91 for the lambs was that Darrel won WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for July 2017.
The draft of 238 ewe lambs averaged 24.83 kg with 91.68 percent registered in WAMMCO’s premium grade.
The decision last year for Darrel and wife Diane to increase their reliance on sheep has confirmed their readiness:
• to use their own grain and to buy in pellets this season to feed pregnant ewes and lambs as necessary
• to concentrate on high fertility with nearly 70 percent of their 1600 SAMM ewe flock now producing twins and high single lambing percentages
• to invest in low-cost, highly effective labour saving technology.
• To work with neighbours casuals, contractors and WAMMCO to maximise their lamb operation.
The Hudson properties, sandplain-based ‘Yleena’ and ‘Mandalee’ with its heavier country closer to Dowerin, jointly comprise nearly 2,400 ha accumulated by Darrel, and Diane and Darrel’s father Peter.
The properties received 200 mm of summer rain between January and March - giving false hope of another bumper season. However April May and June yielded only 15 mm in about six light rains
Pregnant ewes mated in February for a July lamb drop were already on grain and pellets and remained on feed with their lambs. Those scanned for twins got special attention, producing about 150 perrcent lambs, while all dry-scanned ewes were sent to WAMMCO (some returning around $130 per head weight no grade).
“Our decision to let the ewe lambs go was based on the high prevailing price on offer from WAMMCO,and our confidence that a high proportion of the lambs would hit WAMMCO’s premium grade.
“With high fertility assured in the breeding flock, and confidence that we can achieve WAMMCO’s premium grades and stable prices for our lambs over the next few years, we should be able to resume building the ewe flock quickly in 2018,” Darrel said.
The family switched to SAMMS from Steve Slaters’ Margam stud at Gingin ten years ago, upgrading from an original Merino flock. About 50 percent of the SAMM ewes are now mated to Dorpers to produce earlier maturing lambs that qualify for WAMMCO premiums and pre-empt later SAMM lambs which put on less fat.
Darrel is not deterred by the cost of feeding his ewes and lambs.
He also runs a lamb feedlot where truckloads of 44 kg lighter lambs are fed on pellets and grain for a maximum of three weeks before despatch to Katanning at around 50 kg liveweight. “Do it properly and WAMMCO will pay you properly,” he said.
“We have found that Mackies pellets from New Norcia probably cost less than lupins yet can be tailored to specific diets. With the current ruling low prices for grain you can also produce a lot of prime lambs for much less than the value of a tonne of grain. With twins or more the sums get even better,” he said.
Both Dowerin properties have enjoyed heavy July/August rains and whereas the pastures are under late recovery, they will be lighter than normal. Annual seeding of clover and seradella is also boosting pasture productivity.
Darrel works with neighbours Scott Flavel and Lindsay Hagboom to make up lamb loads for Katanning. He and fellow Dorper producer, Paul Millstead are also assisting Dowerin Gourmet butcher Brent Walsh to make sure he gets first hand supplies of high quality lambs that normally only go to overseas consumers.
He believes that WAMMCO has not only assisted WA lamb producers to advance their breeding and husbandry expertise, but also ensures valuable export markets and critical underwriting for the industry.
“They may not always pay the highest prices, but they are right up there keeping the lamb business honest,” he said.