Ensuring optimum productivity from their Border Leicester and Merino first-cross breeding ewe flock is a key objective for Miepoll lamb producers Adrian and Dannielle Ick.
To achieve this, the pair focus on sourcing Border Leicester rams that are highly ranked for the vital maternal traits underpinning the profitability of their overall sheep enterprise.
The Icks run about 600 first-cross ewes for mating to Poll Dorset rams for prime lamb production, and another 300 purebred Merino ewes mated to Border Leicester rams for breeder replacements.
The pair also have a small cattle herd and crop part of their 570-hectare property in the medium rainfall zone near Shepparton, in north central Victoria.
Emerging from two bad drought years, the Icks are now in a flock re-building phase and recognise the importance of getting their genetic decisions right.
Research carried out in Victoria and New South Wales in recent years has shown the value of maternal genetics in producing top-performing crossbred females can fluctuate by as much as $40 in gross margin per ewe per year.
This was measured in results for lamb growth, numbers turned-off and carcase quality.
Mr Ick said using Border Leicester sires to inject the key maternal traits into the sheep breeding flock was definitely paying dividends in terms of management and returns.
He said they could join ewes about one month earlier than in past years, which meant lambs were on the ground in May-June and their growth - and ewe recovery - could be optimised due to high availability of spring feed.
"This has been a big lesson we have learned from the drought years," he said.
"It is enabling us to get a saleable - bigger - lamb product into the market earlier, rather than selling store lambs to be further fattened.
"We also get the ewes joined again faster."
The Icks lamb in April-May and start selling their top lamb lines at weaning in late-August and into September, when liveweights of about 50-60 kilograms are reached.
The aim is to be hitting daily lamb growth rate targets of about 250 grams per head per day - as recommended by the Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) program - from grass-based paddock feed.
"Our objective is to put as much weight on the lambs as we can and then work with our stock agent to find the best marketing options - whether that is selling direct to processors or through the saleyards," Mr Ick said.
He said they sourced rams from the Southern Riverina-based Womboota Border Leicester stud that had been so successful in breeding the best 'dam' sires.
"Womboota's studmaster Malcolm Staritt has helped us so much in getting established with the right rams for our operation," he said.
Womboota is part of the $uperBorder$ Association - which recognises rams ranked by LAMBPLAN as having superior genes for lamb production.
"We are getting rewards from the stud's breeding emphasis on quality maternal traits for easy lambing and creating excellent nurturing mothers for our lambs," Mr Ick said.
"In the past three years that I have been back on the family farm, we are getting 130-135 per cent lambing rates from the first-cross Border Leicester-Merino ewes mated to Poll Dorset rams - compared to about 90 per cent from straight Merinos.
"The ewes also have a heavier frame and body depth - not just length - which seems to enable them to carry and birth lambs easier.
"This means ease of management for us, as well as the production of well set-up lambs that are naturally bigger in frame and grow faster."
Mr Ick said using Border Leicesters to join with their Merino ewes provided the added value of very saleable crossbred wool, which was about 28 micron with an excellent average staple length of 60-70 millimetres.
He said when selecting Border Leicester rams for the crossbred breeding flock - and Poll Dorsets for the second crosses - they sought sires with Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for good eye muscle, low intramuscular fat and high percentage of multiple births.
"We also try to buy rams that were born as twins or multiples, as dad had always done this and it seems to add to overall flock fertility and productivity," he said.