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Beyond the Bale : March 2016
42 ON FARM For woolgrower Alan Williams of ‘Yarong’ at Forbes in NSW, keeping farming practices simple and consistent is helping keep his productivity and profitability up. “Our focus is on breeding a productive, balanced Merino with plainer bodies and large frames,” Alan says. “A lot of things fall into place when selection pressure is put on fertility and wool quality. Keeping it simple helps keep production consistent.” ‘Yarong’ has been in the family for 135 years, and Alan farms the property with his father Ken. They run 1,775 Merino ewes and about 500 Merino wethers on the 1,700 hectare property, along with some winter cereals. The adult ewes cut 18.8 micron wool. FERTILITY: THE MAJOR PROFIT DRIVER Alan achieves an impressive lambing percentage, averaging 116% to ewes joined over the past five years and reaching a high of 122%. Notably, his weaning rate is pretty much the same. “Ewe fertility and high lambing and weaning rates are key drivers for our business,” Alan says. “Weaning a consistently high percentage of lambs and successfully managing them through to one year olds has a huge influence on flock profitability. “Selection pressure can be increased, surplus ewe numbers increase, and the average flock age decreases – all making the flock, and the business, more productive. “Maximising the weaning percentage for maidens sets these ewes up for life, which is especially important for us as a third of our ewe flock are maidens.” Lambing takes place in April, resulting in the lambs being marked and weaned by the time spring comes along. Alan has recently completed a Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) course with the ‘Grawlin’ group, facilitated by Megan Rogers. The LTEM course, supported by AWI, provides materials and develops skills to help sheep producers improve animal nutrition, lambing percentages and weaning rates. “It was a very useful and interesting course. I enjoyed going to other producers’ properties, seeing their paddocks and how others manage the condition and nutrition of their ewes. It reinforced a lot of what we are doing here at ‘Yarong’.” Alan pays particular attention to the nutrition of his ewes, ensuring they are in optimum condition pre-joining. Condition scoring backs up his observation of ewes in the paddock. All the ewes are scanned for multiples and managed accordingly. Twinning ewes are put into the better pasture and are given extra feed in dry times. Singles are run in mob sizes of 400-500, while the twinning ewes are run in smaller sizes of about 100 if possible. Selecting the most fertile and competent mothers over ewes that lose lambs delivers long-term genetic gains for the flock, with higher lamb survival rates into the future. The identification of wet and dry ewes offers significant opportunities to attain high weaning rates. Alan selects ewes capable of rearing lambs by identifying (at lamb marking) which ewes have wet or dry udders. “Dry ewes, and lambed and lost ewes, are identified and removed accordingly,” Alan says. “Maidens that scan dry get a second chance if they pass a visual assessment. I visually assess the others that haven’t got pregnant and if they look OK I give them a second chance, but if it comes back dry again then it has to go.” As well as completing the Lifetime Ewe Management course, Alan has also done the Bred Well Fed Well course that teaches how to optimise reproduction and profitability in ewe flocks, and attended seminars on ewe and lamb management by local vet Alan Sharrock of Lachlan Valley Veterinary Clinic. Also of note, Alan is able to minimise input costs and labour requirements through not needing to apply fly prevention or lice treatments. Ewes are drenched once pre-lambing. WETHERS OFFER FLEXIBILITY Wethers make up about 20 per cent of Alan’s operation which provides him with flexibility. “The wethers don’t need as much attention as the ewes, which need to be kept in the best condition. This makes the wethers easier to run: they can be confined, fed on the cereal stubble, and they can be sold more easily if necessary. “If the season goes bad, the wethers are the first to go; or if prices are high I can sell them at a good profit. If the season is good, they can remain on the property.” SURPLUS SHEEP SALES As well as the sale of wether lambs, Alan says 35-40% of his 11⁄2 year ewes are sold to repeat FERTILITY DRIVES PROFITABILITY The selection of the most fertile ewes and a focus on their condition and nutrition has resulted in high lambing and weaning rates for woolgrower Alan Williams. Alan Williams (right) with his father Ken with a mob of ewes on their property ‘Yarong’ at Forbes in NSW. PHOTO: The Forbes Advocate
In the Shops - March 2016