KEYWYN Farms' Darren Fiebiger started out as a dairyfarmer, but on the back of low milk prices and drought, he also entered into sheep and beef production in the past few decades, and more recently, has started re-evaluating his selling strategies annually depending on the season.
"We found we couldn't rely on the milk income like we should be able to, so we've diversified," he said.
Darren milks about 140 Holsteins and 20 Guernseys at Keyneton - having condensed his herd size down from 200 milkers in the past few years, due to drought.
The dairy herd used to be made up of Guernseys, with Darren's father Ray Fiebiger starting out with the breed in the early 1960s.
Holsteins were brought into the operation about 35 years ago to build herd numbers up.
Darren runs an artificial insemination program with his Holstein herd, for about six to eight weeks, twice a year, followed by a 10-12 week joining period using a Red Angus bull from the Fiebiger's own Keywyn Red Angus stud, to "clean up" any cows not in-calf.
The resulting two calving periods are in February/March and August/September, with about two thirds of the calves being pure Holstein, and the remaining third a Red Angus-cross.
Until about five years ago, we sold the crossbred steers as stores, but there have been times when the seasons have been good enough (to feedlot them), and we have taken them all the way.
"We try to get as many Holstein heifers as we can, we use a bit of sexed semen because the export market has been good," Darren said.
All calves are reared until they are between 18 months and two years old, grazing on annual ryegrass and oats, or fed brewers grain if pasture growth is minimal, using an Advantage Lick Feeder bought three years ago.
"The grain feeder requires the cattle to lick the grain out, it's a bit more controlled," Darren said.
"We switched over to that for ease, because the seasons were drier for longer.
"Drought has brought a lot of our changes around."
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Between 20 and 30 Holstein heifers are kept as replacements each calving, with the rest being sold through the export market, while the Holstein-Red Angus heifers calved down and sold with calves at-foot to local producers.
Crossbred steers are sold as stores either through the Dublin market or on hook, or placed in a feedlot at about the one-year-old mark, then sold off the same way six to 12 months later.
"Until about five years ago, we sold the crossbred steers as stores, but there have been times when the seasons have been good enough (to feedlot them), and we have taken them all the way," Darren said.
Feedlotted steers are given locally-grown barley and triticale, producing about six finished steers each month.
"It's looking like a better season, so we will aim to put some steers through the feedlot this year," he said.
LAMB PERCENTAGE LIFTS AT FIEBIGERS
DARREN Fiebiger, Keywyn Farms, Keyneton, is coming off the back of one of his "best-ever" lambing periods, having recorded a lambing percentage of 105 per cent.
Originally dairyfarmers, the Fiebigers entered into the sheep market about 50 years ago, and now run 220 Merino breeding ewes, joined to rams from Paramount White Suffolk stud, Kersbrook.
"We've always crossed with White Suffolks, the resulting crossbred lambs seem to grow out really well, and the white wool is good," he said.
While they usually achieve a lambing percentage of about 90pc, Darren said this year's good figures were possibly due to a better season.
"We fed the pregnant ewes grain for the first time a few years ago when it was so dry, this year we were back to feeding hay and silage," he said.
"That was all they seemed to need, and it seemed to work alright."
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Lambing begins in April, with sheep grazing on pastures, before the suckers start to be turned off by late August and into September.
They are then sold on hook with the aim of achieving an 18-kilogram dressedweight lamb.
Ewes are kept on until they are about six years old, with Darren selling about 50 of these older ewes each year, on hook, following their shearing in August.
Young ewes are bought in from a neighbour to top the flock back up to 220 each year.
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