Border Leicester rams play an integral role in Greg Fisher's South East sheep enterprise, which is focused on producing quality first-cross ewe lambs for the annual blue ribbon sales in Naracoorte.
Mr Fisher, his partner Jackie Fogarty and employees Scott and Kat Williams look after more than 5000 hectares of owned and leased country across the Woolumbool, Marcollat and Lochaber districts, running 3000 Merino ewes joined to Border Leicester sires, alongside 800 self-replacing Merino ewes and 500 first-cross ewes mated to White Suffolks. They also run a herd of 800 pure Angus breeders.
Mr Fisher decided to make a change from wool production to first-cross lambs in the late 1990s and continues to be pleased with the Border Leicester breed's productivity, fertility and performance.
"My father always ran Merinos, but I have found breeding a Merino lamb in this country is hard work at times," he said.
"Producing first-cross ewe and wether lambs has been far more profitable and suits the country we are in. The ewes lamb in May and we can sell them in November.
"A quick turnaround works well - if the season gets tight we have the flexibility to turn them off earlier and still have a very saleable product."
Mr Fisher has been sourcing Border Leicester rams from the James family's Coolawang stud, Mundulla, for many years, selecting high-performing sires that will complement his big-framed Moorundie-blood Poll Merino ewes.
With assistance from Elders agent Laryn Gogel, ram selection is focused on structure, growth and wool quality.
"Structure and thick bone is very important - we are in pretty sandy country here with big paddocks, so they need to be able to walk and get around," Mr Fisher said.
"I also look for a wool type that is not too coarse, strong or ropy as I'm aware of what these ewes need to produce for my clients, as well as the presentation of the wether and ewe lambs."
Mr Fisher will also use Australian Sheep Breeding Values to guide his final decision, with an emphasis on growth, including weaning weight and post-weaning weight, and carcase traits such as eye muscle depth and fat depth.
It is a nervous time before the sale, you watch them every day for the last month to make sure everything is right and they look as perfect as they can.
The Merino ewes are joined on December 10 for six weeks to start lambing from mid-April onwards.
All the ewes are scanned to identify multiples, with ewes separated into single and twin-bearing mobs so the ewes carrying twins can be managed accordingly. Where possible, they lamb in better quality pasture paddocks and small mob sizes of less than 250 head are maintained.
Lambing percentages average about 125 per cent, with 170pc lambing recorded in the twin-bearing ewes.
Mr Fisher also introduced six-monthly shearing of the Merino ewes about five years ago, which he believes has had a significant benefit on ewe health in the lead-up to lambing and lamb survivability. The ewes are shorn before lambing at the end of April and again in mid-October.
"Originally we did it for ease of management but it has definitely helped to boost our lambing percentages. The mothering up instinct of the ewes is a lot stronger," he said.
Depending on the season, the first-cross lambs are weaned in mid-August and grown out on quality pastures comprising a mix of lucerne, phalaris and chicory.
The first-cross ewe lambs destined for Naracoorte are shorn on October 5 to ensure the perfect wool length for the annual sales in November. Mr Fisher aims to sell about 1300 first-cross lambs each year. This year, he will also have about 350, 1.5-year-old first-cross ewes to sell.
"It is a nervous time before the sale, you watch them every day for the last month to make sure everything is right and they look as perfect as they can," he said.
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"We set them in a paddock where they will stay for the last three to four weeks before the sale so they are settled.
"It is a very profitable market for us, probably the best price we've received is $276 a head. We haven't got the country to compete with the top priced producers and don't want to push them with grain."
Any first-cross ewe lambs not selected for the sale are grown out and joined in the following November to Seriston White Suffolk rams to produce a quality second-cross prime lamb.
"They might have been smaller, later lambs or triplets to begin with, but those first-cross ewes have grown into exceptional ewes, their fertility and mothering ability is excellent," Mr Fisher said.
"We've been achieving lambing percentages of 145-150pc across the flock with the twinners averaging up to 180pc.
"The second-cross lambs are born in mid-April and we can turn them off in mid-August as early sucker lambs at a dressed weight of 22 kilograms to 23kg, it works very well."
Depending on the market and prices, the lambs are sold on-hook and have been going to Australian Lamb Company in Colac, Vic.
Generally, the first-cross wether lamb portion is shorn in early September and sold in December and January at dressed weights of more than 25kg, either through the saleyards in Naracoorte or on-hook.
In recent years, they have also offered the draft early on AuctionsPlus with strong demand from repeat buyers.
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