Cutting their cattle numbers to produce more lambs was something of a test for Denmark farmers Don and Georgie Nekel when they made the move two years ago.
Their judgement was rewardedin December when a consignment of 151 Poll Dorset/Merino cross lambs lambs averaged 22.65 kg andreturned $97.15 per head to win WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for December.
The Nekels suffered repeated outbreaks of footrot, and coped with foxes and the extra sheep problems of a high rainfall area during the 1980’s and 90’s, being forced to rebuild their sheep flock several times from scratch.
“Despite our problems with sheep, Donwas impressed with theprime lamb and sheep price trends and we decided to reduce our cattle numbers in favour of more Merino ewesfor prime lamb and wool production after our last footrot clearance three years ago,” Georgie said last week.
Their winning lamb consignment of 151 Poll Dorset/Merino cross lambs averaged at 22.65 kg carcase weight and sold on WAMMCO’s daily schedule at $4.29 per kilo.
The line also attracted a WAMMCO Select bonus of $174.92 on 36 qualifying lambs, equating to $4.86 per select lamb, or an extra $1.16 per lamb over the consignment.
A shearer and sheepman for most of his career, Don retained a 275 hectare share of the family property on the scenic route just west of Denmark in a split with his brothers in 1983. He has since purchased extra land and leased more grazing country to build the holding to nearly 500 hectares.
The move to more sheep also saw an increase in the ratio of crossbreds to merinos, using Peppin ewes from Nigel Morrison at Pingelly and John Poett’s San Mateo stud.
Last year’s mating program involved 1800 Merino ewes, with 1300 ewes matched to Poll Dorset rams sourced through Peter Sheridan of Primaries, and the balance to Merinos.
“We also shifted our lambing from July back to May/June, and I believe this was a factor Just these things have made this very popular. in achieving a 90 percent lamb marking when other areas were getting around 40 percent,” Don said.
“The actual lamb drop was probably 120 percent but we suffered many losses from foxes and the difficult start to the season. We had early rains in March then nothing until May and the kikuyu let us down. A strong fertiliser base, silage, oats seeded into the clover/rye/kikuyu pasture and a custom vitamin/mineral supplement helped us through the season.”
Don said an Alpaca had now been added to each mob of ewes and they already appeared to be keeping foxes at bay.
The couple are planning to rebuild their ewe flock to 2,500-3000 ewes and to return to a 100 bale wool clip, from the current 70 bales.
Cattle numbers were reduced from 250 to 200 breeders three years ago and further reductions may follow.
“Cattle need to be fed for 9 months of the year but you need to feed sheep only until the break,”
“The extra gains from sheep are obvious but you must be prepared to put in the extra effort to enjoy the rewards,” Don said.
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