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Dorsets deliver fast-growing lambs for early-selling producer

In order to capture the higher prices of new season lambs, Richard Wait needs rams that are going to produce-fast growing progeny that are going to meet his early-spring quitting deadline. Supplied Wait APDAS1

For that reason, Richard and wife Angela opt for Poll Dorsets as terminal sires to put over their first-cross ewe flock.

Farming at Powers Creek in the Western Districts, south of Edenhope, Victoria, Richard and Angela run about 2500 breeding ewes and ewe lambs across 800 hectares alongside a cattle backgrounding operation.

Each year they turn off between 2700 and 2800 Poll Dorset-sired lambs, normally selling overhooks.

They push to start turning lambs off at the beginning of September in order to meet the market and capture the higher prices of winter, which means they are joining ewes and lambing earlier than normal.

“If we can start weighing lambs in late-August or early-September then we are still catching the winter prices,” Richard says.

“The idea is that we don’t have to produce a lamb that dresses at 26 kilograms to get good money.

“Also, if we can get most of the lambs off in September – especially in our area where a lot of lambs are coming online at the same time and there’s pressure to get spots on trucks – we can avoid issues with grass seed contamination as well.”

The Waits buy-in replacement Border Leicester-Merino ewe lambs each year from the Wycheproof saleyards every winter, chasing the best animals they can get to a particular price.

The ewe lambs are then run on ryegrass-based pastures to get them up to weight before the rams go out on November 11.

Richard and Angela purchase their Poll Dorset rams from the Konongwootong stud, Konongwootong, and Deloraine Downs, Coleraine.

It is the type of lamb that Richard and Angela aim to produce which guides them in their decision-making when buying rams, as well as fast growth rates.

“I primarily produce for trade type lambs – not export lambs – and try to turn them off as quick as we can, which is why we use Poll Dorsets,” Richard says.

“We lamb early with the target of getting lambs off early, so for that reason the main trait we are looking at in rams is growth rates.

“I particularly look at birth weight and post-weaning weight figures. We are after the faster growing rams, not necessarily the biggest.”

Lambs start dropping in early-April, and Richard says lambing this early is quite a tricky business.

For that reason, he started scanning pregnant ewes this year to make more informed management decisions with either twinning or single ewes.

“If we get an early break to the season then lambing early is fantastic because we are able to get ahead, but a late break can cause us some trouble,” he says.

“Because I scanned this year, in autumn when feed started getting tighter I was able to focus on putting more feed into twinning ewes, which meant our ewe mortality rate was the lowest it’s ever been.”

The Waits normally achieve a lambing percentage of about 120, which Richard says he is happy with considering they buy all their breeding stock in.

“When you buy breeding ewes in it can be hard to know exactly what you’re getting,” he says.

“Some people will spend the money and buy the really good ewes, but because I buy sheep in early I’m not as picky. With ewes it’s a bit of mixed bag, unless you focus on the breeder and you know the breeder.

“Having said that, I’m happy with the 120 per cent figure.

“Everyone looks for a higher percentage, but because I carry so many sheep through the coldest period of winter – ewes with lambs at foot as well as the ewe lambs I have bought – any more and I would be pushing it feed-wise and in a really cold winter it’s easy to get behind.”

Richard says the early lambing restricts his ability to do “serious” pasture renovation apart from oversowing ryegrass and clover in autumn, so to get the most out of his paddocks he practices rotational grazing every fortnight.

He splits the ewes with lambs into two mobs, which are rotated between two paddocks each per fortnight.

Richard monitors pastures closely and puts out more fertiliser on any particularly good paddocks. He has seen positive results from increasing the use of potash, particularly on some of his clover-based pastures.

Another element to keeping feed up to the lambs is not to stock too heavy.

“We are probably a little bit understocked, but that means there is plenty of feed for the lambs and ewe lambs to get up early,” Richard says.

“I’m always fearful of the season cutting out and because we’re slightly understocked I’ve normally got a little bit more feed rather than a little bit less.”

In future, Richard is considering breaking up some of his larger paddocks into smaller ones for management reasons.

Many of Richard and Angela’s lambs go into supermarkets, particularly Woolworths, and last year they averaged about $112 a head over the entire drop.

They try and get all the lambs off by the middle of October to give the ewes plenty of opportunity to regain condition before the rams go out again.

When lambs leave the property they weigh a minimum of 46kg liveweight, dressing out at about 22kg. Any lambs that remain on the property – which could be between 100-200 – are shorn on offloaded in February.

“The quicker I can get them off then the quicker I can let the ewes regain condition for joining,” Richards says.

“If we can get lambs off in September then the breeding ewes have a good five weeks of spring without a lamb on them, so they should be in good condition by time the rams go out again in November.”