Flexible approach at Tammin

28 May, 2011 03:00 AM
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Rod Stokes believes weaning lambs at an early age not only benefits the lambs, but the ewes as well.
Rod Stokes believes weaning lambs at an early age not only benefits the lambs, but the ewes as well.

THE combination of the easy-care White Dorper ram joined to the Merino ewe, equals diversity.

And it is this combination which has given the Stokes family the ability to run a large cropping operation on their 3600 hectare property at Tammin and 1000ha lease property at Cunderdin.

In an area prone to frosts, Rod and Janet Stokes together with their three children Isaac, Isabella and Angela, have come to appreciate the flexibility of the two enterprises.

With 3500 ewes lambing, 2380ha of wheat, barley, canola and lupins to sow and a further 640ha of oats and sub-clovers to plant for pasture, the family are always busy.

But despite 66 per cent of the property being sown to crop, it's the prime lamb industry that keeps the family going.

For a number of years now the Stokes family has been buying in older Merino ewes and mating them to White Dorper rams to produce prime lambs.

"We select mature ewes from three to five years of age because we have found the two-tooth ewes record a lower lambing percentage," Rod said.

Ewes are bought at the Muchea Livestock Centre or at specialty ewe sales during October and November and often they get a good innings out of them.

"Some are eight years old and they are still pumping out a lamb every season," Rod said.

"We purchase 800 to 1000 ewes annually and chase large-frame, easy-care ewes."

All of the ewes are joined to White Dorper rams from the Haseley White Dorper stud, Toodyay.

Each year the Stokes buy up to 12 rams and look for large-framed, long-bodied rams with solid chests.

"We also look closely at their EMA and weaning weight figures because that's what we are chasing in fast-developing lambs," Rod said.

The family believes the White Dorper ram is a hardy, care-free animal that is clean on the face and points.

"The less wool they have on their face and legs, the less likely they are to get fly strike," Rod said.

"I can only recall treating 30 lambs for fly strike last year."

The Stokes have no issues when it's come to lambing because the Dorper-Merino lambs hit the ground small.

"We have dabbled with British breeds but we kept losing lambs, often a twin because they were just too big," Rod said.

The combination of the Dorper breed and the way the family manages their ewes throughout the mating period is a testament to achieving a 108pc lambing average over the last three years.

Two weeks before the rams are joined to ewes, the family flush-feeds the ewes 500 grams of lupins a head, a day for a 12 day period and puts teasers in for two weeks.

Rod said it made sense to him but many producers no longer manage their ewes this way.

"It's a natural process for a ewe to become stimulated when they are on a rising plain of nutrition," Rod said.

"By stimulating the ewe with feed as well as teasers, their hormones kick in and tell them it's the right time to be mated."

Like the ewes, the Dorper rams also get the opportunity to reach their full potential and are used twice in one season, an early mating in November and a late mating in January.

"We put our rams in for five weeks at a 2pc rate," Rod said.

"We are averaging 100 lambs to every ram because the rams are fertile and we are able to use them twice a year," Rod said.

The Stokes pregnancy scan their ewes 45 days after they have been mated to detect for twin-bearing ewes which can be split into a small flock and fed more.

But 21 days before scanning occurs a single ram will be put back in with the early flock to pick up the ewes that have not fallen pregnant.

For the ewes that have just fallen pregnant it won't come up in the scan but it will when the late mated flock is scanned.

Unfortunately the later lambing flock only gets one chance to fall pregnant but Rod said they often have higher conception rates because they are being mated during the peak season.

"Every ewe gets pregnancy-scanned and the ones that are dry are sold," Rod said.

"We just sold 200 dry ewes."

For the first time this year the Stokes have been using lick-feeders but have come to the realisation they are not a substitute for monitoring your sheep.

"It has been a learning curve," Rod said.

"We seemed to have lost more lambs this year especially in our twinning mob but in the single mob the feeders have been working well."

Rod said the feeders still had plenty of potential and a place in their operation but he felt he hadn't been on the ball.

"I relied too much on the feeders and only introduced the ewes to them three weeks before they started to lamb, which wasn't early enough," he said.

"In hindsight the feeders have saved us time and instead of feeding every second day, we only have to feed the ewes once every 10 days."

The family weans their prime lambs earlier than most producers, at 16 weeks of age.

Rod feels the lambs do better that way.

"Their stomach can develop and their grazing pattern differs," Rod said.

"It's a fact that lambs don't need milk after 12 weeks of age."

If the season stays dry the family is contemplating weaning their lambs earlier than normal, possibly at 12 weeks.

"Not only will this benefit our lambs but our ewes as well," Rod said.

"The ewes will have time to recover and we will get more wool from them."

At a local Elders ELMS field day Rod discovered that 28 kilojoules was needed to feed a ewe with a lamb at foot compared to nine kilojoules for a ewe and seven kilojoules for a lamb when they are separated.

"That is 12 kilojoules of feed you are saving if you wean your lambs at an early age," Rod said.

In a normal season the Stokes will wean their lambs onto oats and sub-clover pasture and start marketing them at 16 to 20 weeks of age.

Rod said the most profitable lambs they sold last year were only 16 weeks of age and they went on the boat.

"We sold 40pc of our lambs to live export last year and while we received up to $140 a head for them it was a younger line that was the most profitable selling for $85 a head," Rod said.

"We try to get our lambs off quickly so we can stock more ewes though we do have some later drop lambs that may go in to the feedlot when the season is bad."

The family must be able to justify putting the lambs into the feedlot and this comes down to the price of grain, the price the lambs are returning a kilogram and the conversion rate of the lambs.

Using a South African breed like the Dorper has seen the Stokes family take a 60-70c/kg cut in their wool price over the years but it hasn't fazed them.

"The meat production and survival rate of our Dorper-Merino lambs outweighs the loss of wool production," Rod said.

"Although wool is a great bonus as it helps to pay for the feed and the ewes we buy in, it's the prime lamb industry that interests me more."

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