Consistency of performance is crucial for sheep producer Brad Smith and it’s what makes him a staunch advocate for the use of Poll Dorset rams.
Brad manages a 1000-hectare prime lamb property Neringah, near Frogmore in the Southern Tablelands of NSW, and his 930ha family sheep property, Fairview, in the same region.
At Neringah last year, 1250 first-cross ewes were joined to Poll Dorset rams, with more than 1870 lambs sold. The property is also home to a commercial Poll Hereford herd of about 250 females.
A diverse sheep operation is run at Fairview, with 1000 to 1200 first-cross ewes joined to Poll Dorset rams, about 600 Merino ewes joined to Poll Dorsets, as well as Merino ewes joined to Border Leicester rams, and a self-replacing Merino portion of the flock.
Brad said they achieved outstanding breeding and sale results last year, averaging $155 to $160 a head for all lambs topping at $220, with great lambing percentages a notable feature of their on-farm practice.
“In the first-cross flock mated to Poll Dorsets we’re regularly marking more than 180 percent of lambs and in the Merinos crossbred lambing rates are upwards of 140pc,” he said.
“Our general run of business is to get the lambs off as quickly as possible, so we do sell about 80 per cent of the lambs as suckers straight off their mothers.
“We start selling them at three-and-a-half to four months of age, and by six months they’re nearly all gone.
“This is the main reason we join to Poll Dorsets because they have high fertility and early maturity. They just get up and go. They’re a product that a lot of buyers want.
Brad said they have two separate lambing periods, with the first in autumn and the second at the end of winter.
“Any lambs that are not sold as suckers are weaned and shorn then taken onto heavier weights for export,” he said.
“That’s another good trait of the Poll Dorset – being able to fill the trade domestic or export market.
“Their feed to growth ratio is exceptional.”
Brad says he is particular when it comes to presentation of sale lambs, with a top-end selling liveweight of 55 kilograms, with the main targets being good fat cover and “natural roundness”.
The majority of ewes lamb on native pastures in the property’s “rough country” and are turned out onto improved pasture paddocks including grazing oats, lucerne, chicory and clover after lamb marking.
“The only supplementary feeding we do is if we have to wean lambs and then they’ll go onto oat and lupin feeders,” Brad said.
Poll Dorset rams are sourced from the Rowley family’s Springwaters Stud at Boorowa, NSW, for both the Neringah and Fairview properties.
Brad said he was not “big on indexes”, preferring to select by eye and basing his choice on several key body traits.
“My old man has been doing it this way for 50 years and is still achieving amazing results,” he said.
“The rams have to have a good, solid Poll Dorset head on them.
“I’ve always thought if they have a good head then the rest of the body comes with it – good bone structure, confirmation and fat cover.
“They also have to have good feet because the rams do tend to get very heavy and if you don’t look after them they can get bad joints.”
Brad said the Poll Dorset sires had helped Neringah and Fairview continue to produce consistent lamb sale results during both tough and favourable years.
“They suit our country and our operation,” he said.
“They produce good consistent lambs so we know what we’re going to get year after year.
“We’ve had pretty tough conditions here for the past 12 months and we’ve still been able to sell lambs – as a sucker straight off mum – for an average of $160 a head.
“We just know they’re consistent.”