Ron and Jason Watterson, Tenterden, Western Australia, have always been big fans of the Poll Dorset breed.
And, despite the occasional dabble with other terminal sires, they say the Poll Dorsets are the quickest-maturing, enabling them to get lambs off quicker.
Ron and Jason farm 1600 hectares at Tenterden, Western Australia, running 3500 Merino and Merino-SAMM breeding ewes. It is the 2500 first-cross ewes which are joined to Poll Dorset rams, while the Merinos are joined to SAMM rams.
They turn off about 2500 Poll Dorset-sired lambs every year, usually overhooks to WAMMCO who buy straight off the farm. Ewe lambs out of SAMM-cross mothers are kept with everything else sold-off which normally totals about 3000 lambs, 2500 of which are Poll Dorset-sired. Lambs start dropping in June onto ryegrass and clover pastures and turned off from late-October.
Ron says that fast-maturing factor is most important to him, as he aims to get all his lambs off by December.
“The lambs have to grow quickly and weigh well,” he says. “We try and get all our lambs off by mid-December and the growth rate of the Poll Dorsets helps us achieve that. Last year, we put about 600 Poll Dorset-cross lambs in a carcase competition and they averaged over 24 kilograms.”
Every lamb the Wattersons sell is weighed on-farm so they know the average before the buyer comes.
“That way, it’s not a stab in the dark and we know what they weigh out at so usually we’re spot-on,” Ron says. “It’s vital we get feedback from the processor so we know how we’re going with the sheep, particularly in terms of how they are weighing and yield.
“That’s where I think the Poll Dorsets come into it – they throw a good meaty lamb and for that we’re getting the results.”
Ron has a simple methodology when he buys rams from the nearby Brimfield Poll Dorset stud – get the biggest ones he can find at the top end of the draft.
“I don’t look at breeding values – I usually go for the biggest ram with the biggest barrel I can find,” he says. “You need something with size to produce a well-grown lamb. We normally pay top money for them as well.
“I am a heavy feeder. We’re still feeding lambs in August because I believe we have to in order to get them off the farm in time. Any lamb needs feed to produce. It’s like a crop: if you don’t put the feed into them you don’t get the results.”
Ron achieved a lambing percentage of 110 percent over his whole flock this year. He says the focus on genetics that Poll Dorset breeders have is exceptional.
“Poll Dorset breeders are fairly switched on, they really push the genetics and try to produce a lamb that gets to market quick,” he says. “I think that’s because of superior genetics. While I can get good rams I will stick with Poll Dorsets.”