Summer floods, grazing crops, abundant stubbles and carefully developed pastures have come together with management enterprise, and top Merino and White Suffolk genetics to lift the ‘bar’ for the Welke family farming partnership at Esperance in 2016/17.
Winning WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for September was the most recent measure of how well the Welkes’ have developed and integrated their cropping, pasture, Merino wool and prime lamb enterprises, now covering about 15,000 hectares in the Cascades area.
The winning line of 330 new seasons’ lambs were from an April lambing that was weaned in mid July and finished on vetch for six weeks prior to deliver in early September .
96.7 percent of the winning consignment of lambs processed at Katanning on September 18, achieved WAMMCO’s premium class. The 330 lambs weighed 21.31 kg per head and returned an average of $138.04 per head.
Their mothers were involved in a multiple mating program that is producing three lambs every two years.
Scott Welke and his brother James manage the farming business for their father Michael and his brothers Brian and Neville Welke.
“For the past 2-3 years we have been mating ewes to White Suffolks in October then again after lambing in June/July,” Scott said.
“Last year, about 800 of these ewes fell pregnant from the second joining and lambed onto stubbles in November/December. With the serious flooding in January this year, we decided to leave the lambs on their mothers, giving ourselves the option of grass or grain to finish the lambs for delivery in May/June. The rams went back in over the same ewes in April giving us another drop of about 800 lambs to finish on stubbles or feedlot for delivery in March/April/May.
“It does not happen every year and you need good strong ewes and the management and nutrition options to capitalise on the circumstances when they occur,” Scott said.
The Welke family is typical of many who moved to Esperance from South Australia, sharefarmed and worked their way into farming businesses in the region.
Infertility problems with early clovers pushed many of them, including grandfather Ed Welke, to become traders rather than breeders of Merino wethers mainly for the live export market and they were quick to adapt to breeding their own sheep specifically for their environment as the options improved.
“Today’s Merino is dual purpose and is substantially different. The sheep industry has caught up with cropping in terms of technology, and the people who have always looked after their sheep are now reaping rewards,” Scott said.
Himself a committee member of the influential local ASheep group for the past two years , Scott and his brother James expect to return their breeding flock this year to the 10,000 ewes the family ran at Esperance in the 1980’s. The flock dropped to a low point of 5,000 ewes about 15 years ago.
The return to sheep will give them a wool clip this year of about 300 bales with improved values for 18-20 micron wool, and returns of around $140 per head from WAMMCO on their Merino wethers, - as well as excellent proceeds from their Merino/White Suffolk lambs.
Their aim is to increase the Merino component of their enterprise, reducing shearing intervals from eight to six months to better fit the cropping schedule and increasing the area of grazing crops within the cropping program. Older Merino ewes will continue to be used for crossbreeding with White Suffolks.
Landmark Esperance agent Neil Brindley assists the family with their WAMMCO bookings and consignments.
The Welke brothers, with partners Odile and Ash, have steadily expanded the family holding from an original, conditional purchase sandplain property taken up by their father Michael and his brothers at Coomalbidgup, to the typically heavier mallee country of Cascades.
As options for sheep breeding improved, the family stocked up with lines of quality breeding ewes from the Great Southern. Merino rams originally came from Murray Downs stud at Esperance, and following their dispersal, an AI program commenced using Leahchim genetics from South Australia in 2001/02. The brothers established their own Westwood Poll Merino stud four years ago.
White Suffolk rams are also sourced from Leahcim stud in South Australia.
Vetches and Seradella have proven their worth and assist the brothers to keep grazing pressure off their regular pastures at critical times. The Seradella is still providing green feed in October and is now regarded as a reliable option on lighter country, while Vetches work well on the heavier country.
Like other producers in the region, the brothers are also looking at summer cropping for grazing to capitalise on the unseasonal rains now a regular feature of the Esperance area.
They are hopeful that WAMMCO can maintain current levels of support for lamb as an incentive for further increases in productivity.
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