YORK lotfeeders Mark and Shelley Fairclough have been named the Alan Jarman Q Lamb producer of the year.
In a family effort involving sons Brad and Andrew and Mark's father Ray, the couple turned off 22,000 lambs in the past 12 months and frequently were named as one of the producers of the month.
Their efforts equated to weekly consignments of 500 lambs with the exception of October, when they shut down for annual holidays.
Their effort is even more significant because Mark Fairclough mixes his own feed ration and has just started trialling Wesfeeds pellets.
They have been lotfeeding lambs for almost three years and use self-feeders under eco-shelters and rely on livestock buyer Bill Nichols to acquire lambs from Midland and Katanning saleyards.
For 18 months after they started they worked closely with Q Lamb field development officer Reg Crabb to weigh and fat score every lamb to build their skills.
Mr Crabb said the producer of the year award was not only about hitting Q Lamb specification targets but also demonstrated producers' commitment to the alliance.
He said choosing a winner had been difficult.
The Faircloughs' achievement won them a five-day trip to Thailand courtesy of Thai Airways, which serves Q Lamb during flights.
Tim and Trish Webb, Kojonup, were the producer of the year runners-up and third place went to last year's winners, John and Michael Patmore, Cuballing.
Q Lamb agent of the year was Mike Curnick, Landmark, Wickepin, with Ben Kealy, Landmark, Williams, second and Ashley Lock, Landmark Narrogin, third.
Mr Crabb said the award recognised livestock agents who were prepared to draft their clients' sheep according to the specific Q Lamb criteria.
"It is not just drafting lambs, but weighing and fat scoring every sheep, and for that they get the accolades from some happy clients," Mr Crabb said.
The alliance has 203 members.
Of the 192,400 lambs slaughtered at Hillside Meats last year 168,120 were members' lambs of which 65pc were graded as score two and 80pc weighed in the 18-22kg range.
Mr Crabb said he could not overstate the importance of supplying consistency year-round and it had been good that although the alliance had welcomed a number of new members during the year, they had come up to speed quickly.
The best new member was Scott Flavel, Southern Waters, Dowerin.
At the alliance's annual meeting at Wickepin last week members were encouraged by Action fresh food business manager Brett King, who remained positive for the Q Lamb label, although the final negotiations for the sale of some Action stores was likely to continue for the next 18 months.
Although it was a hiccup, Q Lamb was a brand that had 20pc year-in year-out growth and had successfully grown bottom line figures for Action butchers and was a valued label that had a future.
Hillside Meats proprietor Peter Trefort gave producers good news when he said the new Stirling Range label would be reserved for members.
He said there was a need to encourage producers to feed Merino lambs to make Q Lamb weight, but the price difference between lamb and hogget was too great to risk if they cut their teeth before making the weight.
Mr Trefort was basing Stirling Range price to producers on 75pc of Q Lamb prices and said using current knowledge and technology the eating quality for hogget was equal to lamb.
Markets, such as cheap meals in RSL clubs in NSW, had emerged where lamb was too expensive, but the cheaper hogget cuts ensured sheep meat was retained on the menu, he said.
Mr Trefort said the improved returns for hoggets could also allow farmers to mate their maiden ewes and any dry ewes could be sold before their four teeth erupted.
He was less optimistic for the skin market, which he said had caused no end of grief to him and other Australian processors.
Mr Trefort said it was cyclical and he did not believe skin prices would stay down.
Also at the meeting Tambellup farmer Michael Reynalds was re-elected Q Lamb chairman.
Q Lamb members are looking forward to 2006 to celebrate the 10th year of their alliance.