Poll Dorsets, and their predecessor, the Dorset Horn, have long been the terminal breed of choice for the Allen family at Bimbadeen, Forbes, New South Wales.
Running a substantial mixed farming enterprise with sheep and cropping, family patriarch Keith Allen said they had used “Dorsets” for longer than he could remember, at least 50 years or more.
“I consider Poll Dorsets to be the best prime lamb sires because of their tremendous growth, beautiful meat and good eye muscle,” he said.
“We’ve used Poll Dorsets since the breed was first developed and they are far superior as a terminal lamb sire.
“In the past 10 years in particular there has been an increased focus on the commercial aspects of the breed and the lambs they produce.”
Keith, who farms with son Grant, Grant’s wife Stephanie, and grandson Isaac, said the family was able to sell lambs 10 months of the year.
He said the family’s flock of first-cross ewes had an even split of autumn and spring lambing to ensure they had an adequate feed base for lambing ewes.
“We could never lamb all of the ewes at once as we couldn’t feed them all,” he said.
The split lambing ensured the Allens were also able to market lambs throughout much of the year, targeting weights of 22 kilograms carcaseweight for the sucker lamb market and 31 to 33kgcw for older lambs.
A lambing percentage of 130 to 140 per cent is regularly achieved despite some concerns on increasing predation of foxes.
“Much of the land around us is now used for cropping, there is much less sheep than there once was, so foxes are becoming an increasingly bigger problem,” Keith said.
“We do bait with 1080 and run alpacas, but I’m not so sure on how effective most of the alpacas are, one does a good job.”
The Allens aimed for ewes to drop lambs every two weeks during autumn and spring, this helped spread the workload during lambing and ensured a steady output of saleable lambs later in the year.
The Border Leicester-Merino ewes were scanned, with single and multiple bearing ewes separated to ensure different nutrient requirements were met. Ewes scanned dry were given three chances before being culled.
“We think we’re better off to look after the ewes when we’re joining, in case something went wrong in autumn,” Keith said.
“The sheep are looked after like babies. Anyone who knocks a sheep around is gone, we all get cranky at times but you don’t take it out on the stock.
“If you handle them quietly, the sheep are quieter, which makes them easier to handle.”
All ewes are bought in from a mix of direct, on-property sales and NSW saleyards.
“We had some young ewes we bought in one year and I think we were the first people to have done anything with them, but after a few weeks here and being run through the yards a few times, they settled down and they’re just as quiet as any others,” Keith said.
Nearly all autumn-drop lambs were sold by the end of September as sucker lambs.
Keith’s first sucker sale in July, held slightly later than usual with 195mm of rain falling on the property in less than six weeks during June and July, achieved good results with lambs – aged 18 weeks, they sold for $160 to $152.
The property’s annual average rainfall is 558 millimetres.
“I was quite happy with those prices as they were straight off their mums,” he said. “Roads are at a premium at the moment around here, so it was good to get them off and sell them.”
Lambs are run on a mix of lucerne and clover pastures, and only containment fed if conditions are dry.
“We don’t do it as a general rule,” Keith said. “Suckers take a bit to grow at the moment, with all the rain and wet weather, but come August they’ll grow like mushrooms.”
Bimbadeen buys six to eight Poll Dorset rams a year, usually from the Gilmore family, Tattykeel Stud, Oberon, NSW.
“I look for a ram with good conformation, light-shouldered, with a clean head and a big rump. I hate to see the back of a ram with no rump,” he said.
“If you buy a good line of rams, you’ll get an even line of lambs to sell.”
Keith said he stuck to his father Richard’s long-time philosophy, ‘it costs as much to feed a bad one as a good one’.
“That applies to any stock, stud or commercial,” he said. “I look for a nice, beautiful shape, as you get a lot more of a return out of a good one, than a bad one.
“Get yourself some decent ewes and rams and it’s as easy as that.”
Keith said in recent years there has been an increased focus on the commercial aspects of the Poll Dorset breed by studs and the lambs produced.
“There’s a very good selection of rams to choose from these days. As a result, the quality of the lambs in the saleyards has also got a lot better in the past 10 years.”
Over autumn and winter export weight lambs were sold over-the-hooks and through saleyards.
Keith said he kept an eye on them in the paddock then spoke to his livestock agent before deciding where to sell.
“We have sold a lot of lambs over-the-hook,” he said. “However freight is quite expensive at the moment and the local stock market at Forbes is very good.
“You do have to factor in trimming over-the-hooks as unfortunately you can’t see under the skin when lambs are in the yards. I’ve never lost a whole lamb ever, but it’s easy to do simple things to ensure any trim is minimised, for instance vaccinate at the back of the ear and not in the body.”
Keith said it was always important to present lambs as well as possible.
“We try and keep the lines of lambs even,” he said. “We’ll pocket crutch if we need to, to ensure lambs are presented cleanly.”