RISK mitigation is an important part of farming in the Mallee and for Moorlands mixed farmer Trevor Crouch, his lambing times and complementary cropping program provide invaluable flexibility for the prime lamb production aspect of his enterprise.
Running 1000 Merino breeding ewes and 300 Merino ewe hoggets and cropping 700 hectares of the 1400ha he and father Dean farm at Moorlands, east of Tailem Bend, the Crouches receive their fair share of challenging seasons in the 300-millimetre rainfall country.
Trevor said he mated about 400 of his breeding ewes to White Suffolks for prime lamb production, with the lambs dropped as early as March.
While it is earlier than the district's customary practice, Trevor said the timing had given him the option to turn off store lambs as early as July if the season turned sour, as was the case this year, or sell them over-the-hooks in December or January if seasonal conditions smiled upon them.
Nobody else in the area had lambs that were ready to go - they were a month to six weeks behind - so it worked out well for us.
"We normally sell the prime lambs over-the-hooks, but this year I sold them early just because of the way the season was," he said.
"I've never turned off store lambs before this year, they've always gone over-the-hooks."
The Crouches received only 58mm of rain until the end of May this year. While they have now received 188mm in total, the early sell-off was the right decision, Trevor says.
"Because the season had been so dry and we had a late start, there was a lot of sheep on the ground with not a lot of feed," he said.
"They were paying good money at the time so we offloaded them in July, before we'd even weaned the Merino lambs.
"Buyers were wanting lambs up to 25 kilograms.
"Nobody else in the area had lambs that were ready to go - they were a month to six weeks behind - so it worked out well for us.
"Feedlotters like early lambs, so we have a reliable market for early lambs if the season is tough, but we can hold onto them in a good season and run them to December or January."
Another important safety net in Trevor's prime lamb program is provided by the cropping side of the enterprise.
The Crouches, who grow wheat, barley, canola, oaten hay and barley hay, use all of the hay for sheep feed and also store adequate grain supplies to ensure they are not stung by lambing in March.
"Lambing later in the year on green feed is more attractive, but that can also be tough in the Mallee where if it's a tough season you have to carry sheep right through summer when there's no feed," Trevor said.
"If you lamb in March, if there's no feed in August or September you can sell them.
"Our stubbles usually still have a bit left in them in March as well."
EASE OF LAMBING AN IMPORTANT FACTOR FOR CROUCHES
TREVOR Crouch sources White Suffolk rams from the nearby Illoura stud to go over about 400 of his Merino ewes for prime lamb production at Moorlands in SA's Mallee.
He said he had a preference for twins and triplets when selecting rams in the hopes of getting more lambs on the ground and improving marking percentages.
"I also look for a bit lower birthweights, but higher weaning weights," Trevor said.
"That's in an effort to avoid troubles at lambing time, but then still have quick growth in the lambs."
When selling over-the-hooks, the Crouches aim for the lambs to be about 40 kilograms liveweight, 18kg dressed.
"We tend to sell at slightly different times depending on what weights the buyers want at the time," Trevor said.
"Buyers used to want nice big lambs, but lately they've been more inclined to want smaller lambs."
The Crouches remaining Merino ewes are mated to Merino rams for wool and wether lamb production and the entire flock is run on medics and sown feed.
All sheep are fed hay and grain in summer and if the season calls for it.
The Merino lambs are dropped later than the prime lambs and the wether lambs are generally sold over-the-hooks.
Trevor said they produced 20 micron to 21M wool, which they sold through the auctions system.
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