POLL Dorsets are the breed of choice for prime lamb producer Ken Atkin, Rutland, Kongorong, South Australia, who says they produce the best lambs for his enterprise.
“Poll Dorset-cross lambs are fast growing and well-muscled,” he said. “They produce the type of lambs that buyers want.”
Ken targets an average carcase of 24.5 kilograms carcaseweight, with lambs sold either through the local Mount Gambier saleyards as prime stock or on-hooks.
“Last year we averaged about $132 a head for lambs,” he said. “By the first week of December I only had 100 lambs left and these were sold in January.
“The Poll Dorset sires produce lambs that are nice and even, and get up to weights quickly.”
Ken runs a diverse operation on 344 hectares, with 1000 first-cross ewes, 100 Hereford cows and a radish seed enterprise, growing seed for export to Japan through South Pacific Seeds.
“I’m fairly well stocked, so being able to produce fast growing lambs, that can be turned off quickly, is what I aim to do,” he said.
“Lambs get marked, drenched and vaccinated, then vaccinated once more before being sold.
“It keeps the costs and labour down, as I’m not getting any younger.”
Poll Dorset rams are run with his Border Leicester-Merino ewes, with lambs dropped from the second week in May and sold six months later, from the first week of November, depending on the season.
The sheep enterprise works in well with the radish crop, which has a seven-year rotation between paddocks.
Ken works closely with Southern Australian Livestock agent Dean Hampel to decide when to market lambs.
“I use an automatic scale machine, Dean Hampel, to sort the lambs,” Ken laughs. “After so many years he’s developed a very good eye for lamb weights and helping me decide when to sell.”
Dean also plays an important role in selecting the Poll Dorset rams that Ken uses on-farm.
“I look to buy rams from the Leenala and Wrattenbullie joint sale at the Naracoorte showgrounds, I usually buy some from both through Dean,” Ken said.
“I want rams that produce lambs that are fast-growing, put on weight quick and that are aimed towards the export market.
“They also need to have good index figures, good feet that are not down on the pasterns, nice, even wool coverage and good teeth.
“They need to be able to eat, walk and mate with the ewes, else there’s not much point having them.”
A fourth-generation producer, Ken’s family have farmed in the region since 1904. He was the first of his family to use Poll Dorsets.
“My great grandfather had a Romney stud originally, then the family switched to Corriedales,” he said.
“We began using Poll Dorsets over older ewes, then when my father passed away I gradually phased all of the Corriedales out in the past 10 to 15 years.
“I switched the flock to first-cross ewes, and continued to use Poll Dorsets as a terminal cross.”
Last year, Ken sold lambs for up to $4.80 a kilogram over-hooks, achieving about $170 to $180 a head, despite being docked 50 cents/kg for lambs being too heavy at 34kg.
He averaged about 130 per cent for lambing last year and runs ewes and lambs on improved pastured, with Camel and Victorian perennial ryegrass, clover and cocksfoot planted.
Having had several, very dry years, this year he has had more than 300 millimetres of rainfall in May and June alone.
First-cross ewes are bought as 1.5 year olds from the Blue Ribbon Naracoorte first-cross ewe sales.