WOOL is the main priority for David Dinning's sheep operation, but having access to a ready made market seeking Border Leicester first-cross ewes makes his crossbred production a profitable secondary enterprise.
Mr Dinning's first-cross production is run alongside 800 Haddon Rig and Langdene blood Merino ewes for wool, 70 Poll Hereford cows and lucerne seed production, near Padthaway in the Limestone coast region.
The Dinning family has had Merinos for many generations, and they started joining classed out Merinos to Border Leicester rams about 20 years ago.
"Back when things were a bit sad in the Merino industry, the tough years in the 1990s, we wanted to increase production without impacting carrying capacity," Mr Dinning said.
Mr Dinning, with help from Haddon Rig's stud classer Andy McLeod, classes out ewes for the 350-head flock which is joined to Border Leicester rams.
"We've been selecting for bodyweight for the past 20 years, but maintained wool quality, reduced micron and got our wool cuts up. We've got a reasonable frame with the Merinos, then we get the extra frame and maternal qualities with the cross. Wool is still the focus but the Border Leicester-cross is a very good second market."
The decision to use Border Leicester sires was mainly based on market opportunities, with all ewe lambs sold through the well-regarded blue ribbon sale in Naracoorte each November.
"That's a big market for the area, and rather than hang onto Merinos for 12 months we keep the Borders for only eight months and move them on, so they fit the operation well," Mr Dinning said.
"Because it's a property based on winter rainfall, the feed supply in late summer and autumn is fairly scarce and low quality, but they're all gone by then so we're only maintaining ewes up until lambing in April."
Mr Dinning has access to groundwater to start pastures, which include subclovers and annual grasses, which the ewes are on prior to lambing.
Wethers are generally finished and sold from November to January, depending on feed, and ewes are targeted at the specialist Border Leicester/Merino sale at Naracoorte. Last year's 1.5-year-old sale set new national record, with a high of $402 a head, and the ewe lamb sale reached $361, setting a new South Australian record.
"There's good demand from all over and the agents are very keen to maintain it as a blue ribbon sale, so they come out and draft them up on property before they can go to the sale," Mr Dinning said.
Mr Dinning sources rams from brothers Neil and Jeff Johnson, who dispersed the Johno's stud flock earlier this year.
"Neil was based near me and he and Jeff used to have a combined sale. I began sourcing genetics from Neil locally until a couple of years ago when he sold his property and dispersed his part of the stud with the core going to be his daughter Cherie Pagan and her husband George's Cooinda stud at Gilgandra. I have continued purchasing from Jeff at his Naracoorte sale."