Joining White Suffolk rams with Merino ewes is a tried and tested practice for Avon mixed farmer Ben Pym, who consistently produces fast-growing first-cross lambs.
Mr Pym has used White Suffolks for more than two decades, and said White Suffolks' growth rates seemed to be "a fraction ahead" of the other breeds.
He also said he favoured White Suffolks for their clean faces and their lean frame.
His usual flock size of 1000 to 1100 Merino ewes was down to 800 this year due to the tough season, but Mr Pym stuck with his strategy of splitting the flock by age into three mobs. The White Suffolk rams were mated with the youngest and oldest ewe mobs, which at the time of mating were 18 months old and more than five years old, respectively. Poll Dorset rams were used over a mob of three to four-year-old ewes.
Mr Pym sources his White Suffolk rams from Peter Angus's Maroola stud, Mallala, attracted by the rams' "very good figures, which are quite often above the national averages".
"Peter helps me with some ram selection, and I also did a Australian Sheep Breeding Value ram selection course over a decade ago," Mr Pym said.
"When I'm selecting a ram, I want one that's got a nice, clean, plain body shape, and good sound structure."
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Ewes are sourced from Darren Crouch, CLRS Trading, Rhynie, to allow Mr Pym to focus on the cropping side of his mixed farming enterprise, which involves a three-year rotation of medic-based pasture, wheat and then a second cereal, usually feed barley.
"Being a mixed farmer, it's easier to let someone that concentrates more on sheep to do the Merino breeding," he said.
Mr Pym's rams are put in with the ewes in November, at a ratio of one to 40, with lambing occurring mid-year and lambs being sold 10-11 months later, mainly to processors.
"Depending on if there is a contract for a certain weight, we sell anything that has a liveweight over 41 kilograms, or we aim at a carcaseweight of at least 17kg," he said.
This year, lambing percentages for the three mobs averaged 75 per cent owing to the tough season, but Mr Pym hopes to increase this in the future when he intends to once again grow his flock size.
"Ideally, we'll try to get back to that 1000 or so Merino ewes, and thus increase ram numbers accordingly," he said.
With record lamb prices, the sky is the limit.
"We will be hoping for a better season - fingers crossed everyone has a good spring and there is a large demand for sheep."
Despite consecutive tough seasons, Mr Pym said it was an exciting time to be in the industry.
"With record lamb prices, the sky is the limit," he said.
"Last year we got meat prices for ewes that we culled - depending on their body weight they were up to $150 per ewe," he said.
"For the farmers that have stuck in the sheep game, we're finally seeing some very good returns."
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