After a two-year break from prime lamb production, Hayley Wake has re-entered the livestock game, and is in the process of building a sheep flock to graze on vetch and self-sown medic pastures on her Miltaburra property, Koomaburra Trust.
Ms Wake, along with her son, Jack Evans, runs a 2630-hectare rotation of wheat, barley, and oats for livestock feed. They have sown vetch as a break crop since 2016, and Ms Wake hopes grazing stock will bring in an additional income stream.
Before 2016, Koomaburra Trust ran about 2000 Merino ewes, joined to White Suffolk rams, but a of lack sheep infrastructure made livestock care difficult.
With an on-property shearing shed about to be built, Ms Wake hoped that re-introducing sheep would be a worthwhile venture.
Since February, Ms Wake has bought in 2500 Merino ewes from across the country, primarily using AuctionsPlus and prioritising those that were scanned in-lamb, with good frames and no foreign seed or burr.
It costs money to sow vetch and spray it, so (grazing) is really about trying to recuperate expenditure from that as well as making a bit of a profit at the same time.
The mobs ranged from maiden ewes through to six-year-olds, although Ms Wake said she would avoid buying maiden ewes again.
"We found that the feed was too good for (the 530 maiden ewes), the lambs got too big for them, and if (the ewes) didn't have twins they had a lot of trouble giving birth," she said.
Ms Wake bought six rams from Rices Creek Poll Merino stud, Saddleworth and Tintinara, which will be used to maintain the Merino flock. She will also join ewes to Suffolk rams, bought from the EP Suffolk sale in September.
"Suffolks are a good frame sheep, and get up pretty quickly once they hit the ground, and they're a bit cheaper for getting in at entry level as opposed to other rams," she said.
But the preference for using Suffolks instead of White Suffolks was ease of management.
"With Suffolks, it is point blank obvious from early on which lambs are Merino and which aren't," she said.
"We had an experience this year where we bought one lot of sheep in that were meant to be just Merino lambs, and when we went to tail them, some were White Suffolks, and it was really hard to tell, so that was probably the instigator for buying Suffolks."
About 1000 of the ewes will be joined to the rams, with the remaining 1500 ewes sold following weaning, before restocking later in the year when the medic and vetch can be utilised.
She will join 275 ewes to the Merino rams this month, as well as 450 five-year-old ewes to the Suffolk rams. The older ewes will be culled early next year, so destocking can begin early in the season.
The Suffolk rams will be used again for a second joining period early next year, for a June lambing.
MANY BENEFITS FROM GRAZING VETCH CROPS
Hayley Wake, Koomaburra Trust, Miltaburra, hoped to see multiple benefits from grazing her vetch paddocks and medic pastures, which she began doing this year with bought-in Merino ewes.
"It costs money to sow vetch and spray it, so (grazing) is really about trying to recuperate expenditure from that as well as making a bit of a profit at the same time," she said.
"Our land is a bit overcropped and we've got a few grass issues, so this is more about paddock management and trying to optimise what we can from the cropping.
"We have a lot of paddocks that don't have much medic in them yet, so vetch is a good alternative for that, for putting nitrogen back in the ground," she said.
Ms Wake has bought in 2500 Merino ewes this year, mainly scanned in-lamb, and will sell ewes following weaning, keeping a breeding flock of 1000 ewes and restocking to 2500 ewes when the self-sown medic comes up next year.
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The bought-in ewes grazed on vetch through the year and have been containment fed since October, when paddocks were nearly bare. They will be put onto stubbles as harvest progresses.
Grazing on vetch next year will be at a rate of two ewes per hectare, and will begin depending on when the pasture becomes established.
"We'll sow vetch in April or May, but the last few years we've had no early rain, so it been quite delayed, and this year it was June or July before we could utilise that vetch," she said.
"Hopefully next year is a better season and we can put the sheep in a bit earlier."
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