POLL Dorset cross lambs were at the centre of the record yarding of 62,187 lambs at the Hamilton Regional Livestock exchange in Victoria’s Western Districts on December 14, with Kerr & Co Hamilton Livestock Manager Craig Pertzel saying the majority of the lambs sold were Poll Dorset crosses.
The sale broke an Australian record for the number of lambs yarded and sold, having previously set the same record last year with a yarding of 58,631 lambs.
Prices topped at $181 at the sale, with Mr Pertzel, who is the Hamilton Stock Agents Association president, saying the cost of quality lambs remained solid.
“The season has run later this year, and they all moved at once,” he said. “We’ve had a terrific run of lambs this year, the season has been good and lambs have sold to a top of $182 so far, with Alistair and Jess Sutherland, Konongwootong Partnership, in south west Vic, making the top price. “We sold 43,000 lambs this week but due to Christmas, sales will now resume on January 4.”
Arundale Pastoral Company, owned by Don and Jill Cant, and managed by Barry Matthews, sold the $181 tops at the sale. The 450 Poll Dorset-sired lambs were out of first-cross mothers, with a selection of lambs weighing 65 to 68 kilograms liveweight. Barry said he was pleased with the price, especially as he nearly pulled the lambs out of the sale due to the record yarding.
Barry manages up to 18,000 head of sheep on 2509 hectares at the Balmoral, Vic, property. This includes a 60:40 split of a self-replacing Merino flock and Merino wethers, run for wool production until they are up to three years old, and first-cross ewes for prime lamb production. He turns off 5000 Poll Dorset-sired second-cross lambs a year, with 90 per cent sold through his local saleyards at Hamilton.
Poll Dorsets are his breed of choice for prime lamb production.
“We used to be all Merinos up until 10 years ago,” he said. “When we decided to make the switch, we looked at the lambs that sold better, and the Poll Dorset second-cross lambs were always up there. They are the ones the buyers want.” Poll Dorset sires are sourced from nearby Deloraine Downs Stud. “We’ve always sourced rams from Deloraine and we’ve been very happy with their performance and service,” Barry said.
“They are mated for six weeks and generally always lamb within a four-week period. This year autumn lambing percentages were 130 to 135 per cent, with the spring lambers at 145-150pc.” Lambs are generally sold straight off their mums, so they are fresh and sappy, at about six months of age. “I like to sell them straight off their mums so they don’t lose any yield, rather than weaning first.”
Barry said lambs had benefited due to the good season, weighing about five to 10kg more than previous years. “They don’t look much bigger in size in comparison to previous years, but they’re very solid,” he said.
A pasture renovation program is run, with triticale clover, mixed ryegrass, two varieties of phalaris and lucerne sown to rejuvenate pastures, with Barry ensuring the second-cross lambs were given the better paddocks in spring to ensure they came up quickly in weight and were ready to sell.
“You need to look after them,” he said. “I keep an eye on egg counts, and also clean-up and crutch any lambs if needed before sale, so they present well. Most of the lambs are paddock-fed depending on the season and I also source feedback from processors where I can.”
The Sutherlands at Konongwootong, Vic, have sold 3000 Poll Dorset sired lambs out of Coopworth-Poll Dorset ewes. At the Hamilton sale, they sold 358, 4.5-month-old, Poll Dorset-cross wether lambs at an estimated 70-80kglw, topping at $169 and averaging $155.83.
Jess Sutherland said they were “ecstatic” with prices. “We’ve sold Poll Dorset-cross lambs at Hamilton for the past month, and topped the first four sales including selling lambs to $181 twice, we weren’t top this time but we are still very pleased with the prices,” she said.
Overall the couple averaged $152 for the 3000 lambs they had already sold this year, a $20 rise on last year. All lambs had been sold through the Hamilton saleyards.
“I noticed on Wednesday from the yarding of more than 62,000 lambs that anything with Dorset blood had more bids,” Jess said.
“I think it reflects that Poll Dorsets are a good early-maturing, meaty sheep. They are a good quality, even animal that appeals to the buyer. They hang up well and the meat yield is also very high. They also have a good skin value, as that down wool is short, so you get the maximum price for skins as well. They achieve a premium price year-in-year-out.”
The Sutherlands run 3400 ewes in their commercial flock, marketing 3500 lambs annually, alongside Hereford cattle and a Poll Dorset stud flock of 550 ewes, selling 270 rams a year.
“The season has gone really well,” Jess said. “At one stage, we had 90 millimetres of rain in 18 hours but as we are up in the hills it has given us a lot of grass, the dams are full, and the springs are running. It’s been wonderful.
“The lambs did have a check because of the rain and cold weather but they bounced back quickly with all the green grass, and there has been much less of a tail in the mob. Out of the first 2000 we sold, we only kept back 4pc, about 50 lambs, those that were younger, or twins.”