WITH producers looking to quickly rebuild flocks, the Browns at Keyneton are changing the way they produce first-cross ewe lambs to capitalise on demand.
Tim and Kelly Brown run Brown Farming Enterprises across a number of owned, leased and agisted properties from their home block at Keyneton through the Eden and Barossa valleys.
They mate about 2000 Merino ewes to Border Leicester rams for first-cross ewe markets, 1000 ewes to Merino rams to self-replace and up to 500 Merino ewes to White Suffolk rams for feedlot lamb production. They also run 40 Angus breeders.
The past few years had been spent building up their flock, particularly with the incorporation of a feedlot on-farm. But more recently they begun fine-tuning the business, which included producing bigger ewe lambs by year's end.
Previously, first-cross ewe lambs were weaned onto grass, paddock-ready for clients by November.
But not all were making joinable weights and this was where the Browns thought the feedlot could be more useful.
"We were mainly using the feedlot to fatten lambs," Mr Brown said. "But with buyers wanting bigger ewes these days, ready to join, we realised it could pay to get our ewe lambs a bit bigger."
As much as we thought we were doing the right thing by finishing our ewe lambs on pasture, the market is telling us something else so we had to reassess.
At the Mount Pleasant first-cross and off-shears sale last month, the Browns received a saleyard record price of $340 for their 1.5-year-olds. Their bigger ewe lambs also fared well ($276) being at a joinable average weight of 55kg.
But their smaller ewe lambs, 38-40kg, made about $50 a head less and it was on these the Browns felt they could make a difference.
"As much as we thought we were doing the right thing by finishing our ewe lambs on pasture, the market is telling us something else so we had to reassess," Mrs Brown said.
"Now we will wean in early September straight into the feedlot, aiming to get them to a joinable weight of 50-55kg by November. We are hoping it will also provide more consistency across our offering."
Mr Brown said they did conduct a small trial this year, with their best 120 ewe lambs, 40kg-plus, put back out into the paddock, while the next 250, averaging 30kg, went into the feedlot.
"The feedlot ewes made $10/hd more. That's how much weight they gained in that six weeks," he said.
"When you factor in feed costs, they probably made the same money. But it definitely wouldn't be the same if those smaller ones went out onto pasture.
"If we can get all our ewe lambs to 50kg-plus, that's where the better money is."
Focus on wool across whole flock paying off
KEYNETON sheep producers Tim and Kelly Brown are also striving to improve their wool cut.
They have been relatively pleased with their 18 micron to 19M wool produced from their Merino ewes, but they have been trying to get the micron down in their Border Leicester-Merinos.
"It wasn't something we had been focusing on too closely while we were building our numbers, but now that we're almost at our ideal self-replacing numbers, we have started to be a bit more selective," Mr Brown said.
"Our first-cross ewe lambs are now about 24M, which we can get good money for.
"Our sheep can be producing up to $30 per fleece, making it worth the extra effort when classing."
In January last year, the couple achieved the highest price at the wool market in the crossbred 26.6M and broader category.
Their 27M wool yielded 76.2 per cent and had a 110-millimetre staple length and made 647 cents/kg greasy or 864c/kg clean.
Feeding out to our ewes last year was just awful.
The couple had steered clear of containment feeding this past year because of a dirty wool concern, but have decided to reconsider.
"Feeding out to our ewes last year was just awful," Mrs Brown said.
"Not only was it time-consuming, but the ewes would leave lambs behind to come up for a feed. We had lower lambing percentages because of the year and also the feeding conditions.
"We are about to start a trial mob of about 150 Merino ewes in containment to see if it works financially, is better for ewe and lamb health and can improve the consistency of lamb growth.
"We probably should have done it last year to protect our paddocks more, but because our farm is so spread out, we were able to avoid it.
"If successful, it could become a permanent measure going forward."
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