Diversity is the key for Lavender family's success

26 May, 2004 10:00 PM
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THE steep granite hills that characterise the Qunindanning area ensure and essential place for livestock on George, Neta and Rowan Lavender's farm.

The high proportion of non-arable land means they are limited in how much they can crop but they have still found other successful ways of diversifying.

As commercial producers the Lavender family has an impressive record of competition and sale yard success for their sheep and cattle extending back many years and recently added to it when they won the Elders supreme clip of the sale.

The Lavender's wool was glowingly described by Elders Wool marketing manager Trevor Smith in terms that could have applied to any Merino clip.

But the Lavender's clip was different because it carried an infusion of Dohne breeding.

The fact they were able to successfully blend the Dohne wool with that shorn from their Angenup blood Merinos was welcomed by Dohne breeders who were pleased to have the proof at a commercial level their breed is a true dual-purpose sheep.

Although it had been shorn as a separate line, and was identified by professional classer Eddie McAllister as coming from Dohne cross ewes, it was interlotted at the wool store with the traditional Merino wool and sold as a single line.

This year will be the Lavender's fourth drop of Dohne cross lambs and will include the first three-quarter blood Dohne lambs.

But even after four years of breeding Dohnes they still have a big decision to make on whether they will turn the entire flock over to an eventual pure Dohne one.

George says they need another couple of years' experience before they make that decision but he likes how they have performed so far.

They have 630 ewes with a Dohne infusion, which is almost half their breeding flock.

They are continuing to run the Merinos as a separate wool enterprise and also breed a proportion of Poll Dorset and Suffolk cross prime lambs.

George says they are basically woolgrowers and that is what they like to do. They tried their first Dohne as an experiment in 2000 when they bought one ram and joined it, gave it a two-week break and joined it again to result in 240 lambs from 280 ewes.

The idea was to toughen up the Merinos to make it more of an easy doing sheep. Half of the resulting ewe hoggets were joined to Merino rams and the other half went back to a Dohne.

George says he felt the quarter of Dohne blood was not enough to gain the Dohne's advantages.

This was reinforced when the first cross hoggets joined to the Dohne rams produced 100pc lambing compared with 75pc from those joined to the Merino rams.

Although they have not kept accurate figures on the two flocks, they do identify lambs at marking before running them with the Merino lambs as a single group. They have observed a drop in wool weights and yield but that has been compensated by improved lambing percentages and more options that the Dohne infusion gives.

The first drop of white tag wether lambs were sold on-farm with their Merino lambs.

The next year they went on the boat at export lamb prices and this year's drop are waiting to be sold.

Rowan says they are running with the Merino and are nearly ready for sale despite the fact they have been living on virtually nothing.

In selecting their Dohne sires from David Kain's Far Valley stud at Arthur River they concentrated on wool quality when most others sought the carcase attributes of the breed.

Because of the expense of the rams they bought less than normal and joined them to more ewes - just six rams to cover the 630 ewes - a rate much lower than what they join their Merino rams.

George's parents Ray and Pat had enormous pride in their stock and it seems to have rubbed off on him.

They have regularly pitted their sheep against other flocks by entering in ewe hogget competitions with commendable results.

In 2003 they won the Williams Gateway expo prime lamb competition with Poll Dorset cross lambs.

In the same event they also entered F1 Dohne lambs and gained a fourth which they considered exceptional considering they were up against dedicated terminal breeds.

When wool crashed they branched into a bit of everything to cover all bases. They had already been running cattle and prime lambs on their 800 hectare home property.

Although they expanded their cropping to a 243ha program (which ties up about 365ha of country) the steep and rocky slopes were not cropping proposition.

On a second property they have set aside dedicated cropping paddocks (close to Kievi Farm, which has an export hay business) and concentrated on export oaten hay for the past five years to build it to their biggest single enterprise.

The expanded cropping program also works well with their sheep.

Because the country is too steep to work they cannot spray top and use an aeroplane to top dress fertilisers.

Heavy stocking in the late spring controls the seed set but they must take care not to bare it off over summer or they find it all ends up in the river after a good rain.

Instead the sheep are pushed onto the stubbles during the autumn.

They have continued with their cattle now running a herd of 120 mainly Angus and Murray Grey breeders that, over many years had seen the odd Hereford, Limousin or Simmental bull as they have tried different breeds.

Lavender Farm has been a vendor at the Williams breeders' sale at Midland in January where they sell all but a handful of replacement heifers and a few that don't make the grade.

At times they have topped this sale but were impressed with a fellow breeder's calves sired by a Romagnola bull from Murray Grey and Angus cows.

They decided to try a Romagnola bull and after researching the attributes of the breed Rowan made another decision to try his hand at the stud game.

"Romagnolas are easy calving and easy care cattle, with excellent foraging abilities and outstanding feed conversion rates under feedlot conditions," he said.

"They have excellent carcase qualities, dark pigmented skin and hooded eyes - meaning no eye cancer problems.

"Plus they look magnificent and are full of personality."

Rowan recently bought a purebred bull and two heifers, one of which has dropped a heifer calf, to start a Romagnola stud and he hopes to use embryo transfer to increase numbers quickly.

With two other brothers Wesley and Dylan, who have worked on the farm, diversification is essential if they are all to come back to the farm.

Rowan completed a Diploma of Aquaculture at the W.A Maritime Training Centre in mid 2003 and Dylan's furniture making apprenticeship offer new possibilities for the future.

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