In a difficult lamb market heading into spring, Albury sheep producer Cameron Lowen is finding opportunities by focusing on the use of superior maternal genetics and thinking ahead to flock improvements.
His use of Border Leicester sires from a registered stud member of the $uperBorder$ program to join with about 2000 Merino ewes each year for a crossbred breeding base gives him flexible management and marketing options.
As a mixed farmer, who is also juggling cropping and cattle enterprises on a 1620-hectare high rainfall zone property in southern New South Wales, a key aim is to run highly productive, but low maintenance sheep.
To this end, Mr Lowen - trading as Weebo Park - also uses the heritage Ryeland breed - developed in England.
This breed is renowned for high fertility and good lamb growth rates, but has a relatively small stature.
Mr Lowen said joining Ryeland sires with maiden first-cross Border Leicester-Merino ewes and purebred Merino maiden ewes at about 11-12-months-old gave them an 'easy first shot' at birthing and growing a lamb.
"The lambs have a lower birth weight than those from the Border Leicester crossbreds that are mated to Poll Dorsets - and those from the straight Merinos - but they are easy to birth and fast-growing," he said.
"And the Ryeland-cross lambs are highly marketable."
Mr Lowen said after bearing their first lambs to Ryeland sires, the crossbred Border Leicester and Merino breeders were all mated to Poll Dorset rams.
This injected genetics for even higher growth rates and a range of meat eating quality traits into the progeny.
"The Border Leicester influence provides the vital maternal traits and, coupled with the Poll Dorset genetics for carcase qualities, I am getting optimal lamb production in-line with consumer meat requirements - from a grass-based grazing system," Mr Lowen said.
"These second-cross lambs are really fast growing and I sell them as consistent sucker lines just after weaning, when they will be about 22-24 kilograms dressed weight.
"I will sell to processors and through the saleyard system - wherever I determine the best returns will be had."
Mr Lowen uses Border Leicester sires from Cherie Pagan's Cooinda stud, which is a significant distance away at Gilgandra - but worth the drive.
He selects the stud's rams based on LAMBPLAN Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for maternal traits of fertility, percentage weaned and weaning weight.
Being registered with $uperBorder$ means Cooinda sires are ranked highly on LAMBPLAN as having superior genes for lamb growth rates and overall production traits.
Mr Lowen has a split joining - with rams doing their jobs twice a year, in spring and autumn.
He said this year, the Border Leicester first-cross ewes that were mated to Poll Dorset rams in March-April achieved an average pregnancy rate of 157 per cent when scanned.
Maiden first-cross Border Leicester and Merino ewes mated to the Ryeland sires reached an average conception rate of 176 per cent.
Mr Lowen said he would now reconsider the spring joining, as the conception results from autumn mating were so good. This would enable him to sell into the lamb market earlier than usual - from late-August.
"I have already started selling lambs in mid-August due to the excellent seasonal conditions on the farm so far in 2020," he said.
"And the spring outlook appears very favorable for growing lambs out."
Mr Lowen said given current lamb market conditions - where local prices had been dropping by about $15/head per week for the past three weeks due to COVID-19 factors - it was important to think ahead with selling strategies.
"I have had to revise my lamb enterprise budget several times already," he said.
Key tactics Mr Lowen is using to manage his stock marketing include seeking the best on-farm prices - in conjunction with his agent - which saves cartage/freight and saleyard fees to help optimise returns.
"It is a tough time, and I have to be ready to take opportunities when they arise," he said.
Mr Lowen is also considering replacing more of his older ewes with current low-cost ewe lambs for the business' future breeding flock.
"I can pretty much replace my old ewes at the end of their reproductive life with fresh young ewes at the same selling and buying price," he said.
"This makes sense in the long-term, as the ewe lambs have a lifetime of productivity ahead of them."
The story Weebo Park at Albury is reaping rewards of Border Leicesters in crossbreeding first appeared on The Land.