Quality product deserves premium price tag

Quality product deserves premium price tag


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McLAREN Vale wine and sheep producer Henry Beal says his two enterprises have similar goals: create a premium product and find a niche market that is willing to pay.

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McLAREN Vale wine and sheep producer Henry Beal says his two enterprises have similar goals: create a premium product and find a niche market that is willing to pay.

The 23-year-old producer manages his family's farm and runs 300 to 400 head of sheep, depending on the season.

The bulk of these are Merino ewes, which are joined with a Suffolk sire for first-cross lambs.

But after seeing the appeal of the Suffolks - primarily their growth, fecundity and eating quality - Mr Beal began to build a pure Suffolk flock.

Starting with 40 Telpara-blood Suffolk ewes, he has built this number to 80 by retaining the ewe lambs.

Eventually, he would like to run only Suffolks.

Mr Beal said the high fecundity of the Suffolk breed was helping speed up the building of the Suffolk flock.

He estimates his sheep have a lambing percentage of 160 per cent, with a high proportion of multiple births.

While all the Suffolk ewe lambs are retained, the wethers are sold direct to two butchers in McLaren Vale - Ellis and Country Meats.

Mr Beal said he received a premium of $2.50 a kilogram above the grid at the time.

"I do have to pay for slaughter, but we're still ahead," he said.

The Suffolk ewes lamb in September and are weaned between 12 and 14 weeks of age, when they go straight onto feed.

"They're already massive lambs," he said.

"The Suffolks have great mothering ability and just milk the house down."

The wethers are finished on a mix of pasture and supplemented grain.

At 60kg, usually about six months old, the wethers are sent to Strathalbyn or Kangarilla abattoir and dress out at about 30kg.

Everyone loves quality meat and quality produce, especially off a farm where it's known they've been looked after. - HENRY BEAL

"They dress out really well and you can see the intramuscular fat," he said.

Mr Beal said the eating quality was the big appeal of the Suffolk breed for him.

While researching sheep, his father Simon found information that spruiked that attribute of the breed and Mr Beal said it had proven true.

He keeps eating quality as a core focus for his breeding and last year bought a Telpara ram that rated among the top 1pc for shear force or tenderness and top 3pc for intramuscular fat for all terminal breeds.

Mr Beal said there was a growing interest in buying produce with a story, especially in a region such as McLaren Vale.

"Everyone loves quality meat and quality produce, especially off a farm where it's known they've been looked after," he said.

"It ties together that we've got wine and sheep and are close to the city and people can relate to these.

"The butchers are all for supporting local farms."

The Merino ewes, which also provide a "handy income" from their wool, lamb the first-crosses in May, which enables them to fill a different market.

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These lambs are generally sold direct to abattoirs or through the saleyards.

Mr Beal also trades cattle when the season allows.

The 240-hectare farm includes 14ha of Shiraz vines, which are made into their Monopilla-branded wine, and a small olive grove, which produces about 100 litres of oil every second year.

Mr Beal said these three enterprises were a natural fit with the sheep.

It was a "no-brainer" to run the sheep in the vineyards from harvest through to budburst.

"It helps with weed management and they're basically walking fertiliser," he said.

The olive trees also provide shelter during lambing.

"You pretty much couldn't get better shelter, unless they're in a shed," he said.

The wine and olive oil are sold to family and friends, through word of mouth.

Eventually, Mr Beal said he would like to expand to be able to process the sheep on-farm and sell the Monopilla branded meat online, direct from the farmgate, alongside their wine and olive oil.

"If you've got such a premium product, it's silly not to get the returns you deserve," he said.

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