BORDER Leicester sheep are part of a broader mix of breeds run by South East grazing operation, Marcollat Pastoral Company, giving the Verco family increased marketing options and the flexibility to quickly respond to seasonal conditions.
George Verco, his partner Jannah, brother Will and his partner Pru, along with their parents Phil and Kathy, take care of more than 5000 hectares of owned and leased land spread between Padthaway and Willalooka, running 600 Angus breeders and 13,000 Merino ewes, including replacements.
Until recently, half the Merino ewes were run in a self-replacing flock with the remainder joined to White Suffolk rams for prime lamb production, but the Verco family have re-introduced Border Leicesters to take advantage of the strong demand for first-cross ewes.
This season, they joined 1700 of their Merino ewes to Border Leicester sires, with the first drop of first-cross lambs hitting the ground in June.
"In our country the season can tend to cut out earlier, which means we have to start selling store lambs due to the grass seeds, we only have the capacity with irrigation and dryland lucerne to finish off a certain amount of lambs," Mr Verco said.
"You can run ewe lambs a bit differently and with the first-cross ewe job so strong, we decided to join a portion of our Merinos to Border Leicesters to spread the risk and keep our gross margins up.
"Having a first-cross ewe lamb enterprise fits in well with our seasons and will give us more flexibility in terms of our marketing options."
The family's big-framed Kamora Park-blood Merino ewes are a good fit with Border Leicester rams sourced from both the Castle Camps stud, Keith, and Paxton, Western Flat.
"With our Merinos, we look at post weaning weight as that early maturing trait is something we chase," Mr Verco said.
"If we can get weight into our Merino ewes early I think it sets them up for better joining rates as maiden ewes and in the future we could potentially look at joining them as ewe lambs."
Border Leicester ram selection has also focused on structure, particularly feet, above average Australian Sheep Breeding Values for post weaning weight, and carcase traits including eye muscle and fat depth.
"Fertility is also a big focus for us so we have purchased only twin-born rams," he said.
"It has been interesting as although we haven't marked all our lambs yet, it is looking like about two-thirds of the first-cross ewe lambs we are going to sell were born a twin."
The mixed age Merino ewes are joined on January 1 for six weeks to start lambing in early June. The self-replacing Merino flock and ewes joined to White Suffolk rams lamb from May 1 onwards.
RELATED: Meeting demand for first-cross ewes
For Mr Verco, ewe condition plays an important role in lamb survival and they have been working closely with Nutrien Ag Solutions animal production specialist Daniel Schuppan to fine-tune ewe nutrition in the lead up to lambing.
"Adjusting their grain supplementation depending on their pregnancy status and stage, condition scoring and giving the ewes lick blocks has all combined to increase lambing percentages by at least 15 per cent," he said.
"This season across the whole flock, we had 133pc conception rates per ewe joined, and our marking rates are looking like averaging about 110pc.
"With a little more fine-tuning, we are aiming to mark 115 to 120pc to ewes joined."
Depending on the season, the ewes will be fed in containment from mid February onwards, after joining has finished, until two weeks prior to lambing. All the ewes are scanned to identify multiples so the ewes carrying twins can be given preferential treatment.
Ewes in the larger containment yards, about one hectare in size, are trail fed a ration of barley and silage, depending on their requirements, with straw also supplied as additional roughage.
"The supplementary feeding requirements depend on the stage of pregnancy and ewe condition score," Mr Verco said.
"For example, six weeks before lambing in about mid-March, the twin-bearing ewes in confinement were receiving about 0.69kg per head/day of barley, 0.5kg/hd/day of silage and 0.3kg of straw per day.
"Two weeks before they go out into their lambing paddocks they will be up to about 1.09kg/hd/day of barley, along with silage and straw.
"The ewes are condition scored before they go into containment and again six weeks before lambing and any that don't hit the target are pulled out and managed accordingly.
"We want twin-bearing ewes to be condition score three or more and singles 2.8 and above."
The ewes carrying twins will lamb in the better quality, most sheltered, pasture paddocks and mob sizes of about 100 to 180 head are maintained, depending on the paddock size and feed availability. Single-bearing ewes lamb down in mobs of 200 to 300 head depending on the paddock size.
Mr Verco plans to have about 1000 first-cross ewe lambs to sell this year, aiming to have them at 50kg live weight by five months.
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