It has been five years since Fords mixed farmers Rob and Pat Kerin moved out of the stud game, with the father and son switching to a commercial focus and utilising two properties to hone in on crossbred lamb production.
The Kerins own 800 hectares at their home farm, Parknasilla, cropping 650ha and also running 400 Prime SAMM ewes. Grasslands, a 1600ha property at Sherlock, was bought in 2015, when the pair wound up their SAMM stud, Kincora.
About 500ha of Grasslands is used for cropping, with the remaining land used to run a self-replacing SAMM ewe flock, working up to about 1000 head.
"Running the stud was enjoyable, but extremely hands-on, and when Pat bought Grasslands, we ran out of time and labour to keep the stud going," Rob said.
The 400 ewes at Parknasilla are mated to SAMM rams in a six-week joining period from early December to mid-January, with wether lambs sold as suckers at the Dublin market, aiming for a dressedweight of 20 kilograms at the five-month mark.
Ewe lambs are taken to Grasslands, added to the self-replacing flock, and mated to White Suffolks from Anna Villa stud, Weetulta. Sheep are first mated at 18 months old, and used until they are seven years old.
All SAMM-White Suffolk lambs are sold on-hook to Thomas Foods International as suckers, aiming for a 24kg dressedweight.
We know that it's reasonably expensive, but it works out to be about 10 lambs at $200, so it is well worth it.
Moving stock to Grasslands has been the system of choice since the property was purchased, but until this year, Afrino rams were used at Parknasilla over SAMM ewes, rather than SAMM rams being used, sourced from Lawral Park, Ungarra.
"We had about 100 Afrino ewes and we bred our own rams - the Afrinos had very good fecundity and lambing percentages, but they were a bit wild, so we've gone back to the SAMMs, they have really good genetics and can be mated at any time," Rob said.
Pat said the feed potential at Sherlock meant it was the best place to rear crossbred lambs, particularly this season.
"There has been a lot of feed at Grasslands this year, lots of self-sown medics, the feed is just gold there. The lambs are growing quickly at Grasslands and we're really happy with how they've turned out there so far," he said.
As of this year, ewes at Grasslands have been given a Grazemax Loose Lick supplement, put out from six weeks before joining.
"Our lambing percentage has jumped up about 14 per cent (to 114pc) at Grasslands as a result of the lick, and the lambs are getting the benefits back through the milk," Pat said.
"We know that it's reasonably expensive, but it works out to be about 10 lambs at $200, so it is well worth it."
Tight joining period creates consistency
For the first time this year, Rob and Pat Kerin, Parknasilla, Fords, grazed their Prime SAMM ewe flock on a standing wheat crop, and have reaped the benefits.
The Kerins also have land at Grasslands, Sherlock, with their Fords country used to breed SAMM ewe lambs which are later moved to Grasslands.
For six weeks, kicking off in August, the 400 SAMM ewes, and their 400 April/May-drop sucker lambs, were placed onto a 17-hectare wheat paddock at Parknasilla, and taken off when the first node was visible.
Rob said precision was key to ensure the crop could be harvested.
"There is a skill to it, you have to have right number of sheep per hectare in a small enough paddock that you get an even feed off so it's all down at the same level when the sheep come out," he said.
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"Grazing on the standing crop gave the vetch (which is usually grazed on) an extra six weeks to grow. The SAMM ewes are still on it, and we will keep them on that until stubbles come up.
"The late rain has been a bit of a bonus to help the crop bounce back."
Precision has also been key for joining at both Parknasilla and Grasslands. Time periods for joining, lambing, crutching, tailing and shearing are kept constant across both properties.
"We've reduced our joining period from 10 weeks, to eight weeks, to six weeks this year, so instead of having 200 or 300 lambs that haven't quite met the mark when you're ready to sell, you have a tightened finishing window, and a better and more uniform product," Rob said.
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