KEEN to improve the fecundity of his ewes and increase his kilograms per hectare, Kangaroo Island producer David Westbrook has introduced Highlander and Focus Prime genetics into his flock.
“Three years ago I saw an article on Focus Genetics in the Stock Journal,” he said.
“After contacting them, I was impressed with their knowledge behind the business and passion for their product; it got me keen to look into the breeds further.
“I like that the data on them stacked up for the elements that I was hoping to improve in my business – fertility, growth rates, kilograms/ha and fecundity of my ewes.”
Highlanders are a smaller framed, highly-fertile maternal line, while Focus Primes are fast-growing terminals with good eating quality.
On 1100ha at Parndana, Mr Westbrook and wife Becky run 2500 Merino ewes – 1500 mated back to Merino, 1000 to terminal rams – and 4300 crossbred/composite ewes – with 2000 of the first-cross ewes joined to Highlander rams and about 800 Highlander ewes also joined to Highlanders.
He also joins 1500 F1 Highlander ewe lambs to Focus Prime rams, alongside 150 Angus breeders and 150 yearlings.
His five-year plan is to increase his Highlander ewes to 7000 head, alongside a 1000-head self-replacing Merino flock, which means he may need to cut back his cattle numbers.
“Recently I have been trying to get my Highlander breeding ewe numbers up so have been using mainly Highlander rams,” he said.
Mr Westbrook says next year he will be mating 2800 Highlander ewes back to Highlander rams, while about 1500 will be joined with Focus Prime rams.
The rams go in from February with mature ewes for a July/August-drop, and March for ewe lambs to drop in August/September.
Mr Westbrook said the ewe lambs were still joined at nine months, but being Highlander meant their adult bodyweight percentage was higher, leading to higher fertility.
“My ewe base will stay the same, at 8.5 ewes/ha, but their feed requirements will be more, due to a higher rate of multiple bearing ewes,” he said. “We have already gone from 130 per cent lambs using a White Suffolk-Merino ewe to 150pc lambs with Highlanders.”
Mr Westbrook expects that figure to increase further, particularly with a strong focus on ewe management.
“It’s not just about fattening lambs these days,” he said.
“After weaning, I put a lot of focus on getting my ewes to a condition score of just over 3 to maximise the chance of best fertility for the upcoming season.”
Exceptional ewe fecundity helps build flock numbers
FOR the first time last year, Parndana sheep producer David Westbrook conducted a trial with Focus Prime rams over first-cross Highlander ewe lambs.
“The lambs, which are terminals, are so far looking really good with good growth rates, doing ability, and are just fresh, well-shaped lambs,” he said.
Mr Westbrook said all wether lambs were put through a family feedlot on the Yorke Peninsula, generally off the property at about 35 kilograms to 45kg in mid-November.
“All the wether lambs, even the Highlander wethers, are making a good return,” he said.
“We’ve had good feedback from processors, even on the maternal side with the Highlanders.
“I am excited to see how the lambs will thrive with the Focus Prime genetics put over the Highlander ewes; I hope to see some really good eating quality.”
The weaners stay in the feedlot to about 55-60kg before being sold to processors.
Mr Westbrook said they had not made dramatic changes to pastures, except for the inclusion of kikuyu for ewe lambs to feed on during summer.
Mr Westbrook said one of the benefits of being involved with the Focus Genetics group was additional on-farm management advice.
“It’s not just about genetics, but they also provide general farm consulting to help maximise returns as well,” he said.
“They have set me up with a flock structure plan and I work with them regularly to maintain that optimal flock structure.”