Pursuing prime lamb production pays off for Martins

23 Nov, 2005 08:45 PM
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PRIME lamb producers were few and far between 40 years ago but for the Martin family, prime lambs have always provided a steady and strong operation since Gordon and Pat Martin began farming at Badgingarra in 1966.

The somewhat sparse and barren scrubland was cleared and developed to make way for a productive multi-purpose enterprise, and it wasn't long before the Martins were set up for meat sheep production using Merino and Poll Dorset genetics.

Almost half a decade on and son Dennis is carrying on the family legacy with his wife Robyn and three children.

Dennis and Robyn run 6000 breeder ewes on their two Badgingarra properties, which total 3600ha, and also have extensive cattle and grain production operations.

The two equally sized properties are 30km apart, the second farm was purchased in 1987 and later cleared for expansion of the existing enterprise.

Poll Dorset and more recently SAMM and Dohne genetics have all been used in the prime lamb flock, and the Martins regularly purchase Merino ewes to produce the F1 lambs.

Dennis said in recent years they had also found a good mix in producing SAMM-Merino first cross ewes as mothers, which were subsequently mated to Poll Dorset rams.

"It has been a process but we have been doing this to get a good dressing percentage in lambs, and we are getting good returns from them," Dennis said.

The Martins turn off all their lambs except the females which are kept for the SAMM-Merino cross program, and everything is directed at Q Lamb.

A dressing percentage of 20kg was the average target to meet the requirements of their market.

One third of the lambs are fed on grass during the spring and are then sold off. One third are put on stubble and the remainder are topped up on mixed grain from April to June.

Dennis said the lambing was staggered over three stages so as to provide Q Lamb with a more consistent supply of lambs.

"We have lambings in early May, late May and early to mid June so we can supply over a longer a period of time," he said.

"It is a real problem in the industry that people only turn off lambs once a year at the same time as everybody else, which creates problems with kill space and also with the lack of supply at other times of the year."

Dennis said with the surge in producers embarking on prime lamb production, particularly in the past two years, the returns for his lambs had dipped.

"With so many farmers going into meat sheep, there is so much more supply out there and it has been a bit of a squeeze for kill space and competition for markets," he said.

"Despite the challenges, markets fall and rise and we are not in the business of jumping in and out of enterprises just to meet market demands.

"We will continue to do what we are good at because it is working well for us, and we won't be changing our proportions to any big degree as that is very risky."

Those proportions were set in place a long time ago with the business evenly split into one third lamb production, one third cattle and one third grain.

Murray Grey, Angus and Limousin bulls were put over 400 Shorthorn, Murray Grey and Angus cows annually to produce baby beef and larger animals for the domestic market.

Half the calves were turned off as vealers, and the rest were finished on a mixed ration of oats, barley, lupins, hay and essential minerals, to achieve a 220 to 230kg dress weight.

This year's excellent season saw a calving percentage of 95pc to 96pc, following pregnancy tests that revealed 97pc in-calf cows.

Dennis said first time mothers were regularly monitored, kept close by the main homestead, and were given special attention to prevent calving problems and stress.

Also keeping the Martin family busy is their cropping enterprise, which involves 300ha oats and another 300ha of barley, lupins and triticale, a cross between wheat and rye.

Five hundred bales of oaten hay were produced and all grains and hay were stored and used on-farm, with the excess being sold off between August and October.

Dennis said not only did the crops provide feed for the animals and income, they also served to complement the livestock enterprise in other ways.

"There is also value in the stubble for feeding livestock, and there is a good rotational system in place that fits in well with our operation," he said.

Windrows are a big feature of the properties, with paddocks mowed and the fodder left in rows for cattle and sheep to feed on during the late spring to early summer months.

"This eases the stock into drier feed, as it is a good medium between green feed and stubble," Dennis said.

"It keeps milk production up for the cows, and the livestock does quite well out of it."

Areas on the properties have non-wetting soil problems, and the Martins have begun clay spreading to combat this.

"We have been clay spreading on the sandier country and so far it is showing good results," Dennis said.

"One third of the farm has non-wetting problems, so with a proportion that large it is something that really has to be done otherwise we are losing out on productive land."

A conservative approach with chemicals has been taken, carrying on from Gordon and Pat's way of farming.

"We have adopted the same sort of farming practices and philosophies dad used, though a lot of the systems and equipment have had to be modernised and updated," Dennis said.

"We try to keep chemicals to a minimum, and though we do need fertilisers for crops to really grow in this type of country, we also attempt to be moderate with our use of them."

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Australia's live animal trade is nothing but a blood stained industry that suits those who