SHEEP are great because they make money, according to Agrarian Management consultant Ashley Herbert who spoke at the recent LambEx 2018 conference at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.
He said he liked what sheep could do, “ they make money, they make money well”.
“They are very good at working in with cropping which is what the majority of sheep do in WA,” Mr Herbert said.
With 20 years experience as a consultant Mr Herbert said sheep were “doing well at the moment”.
“Its taken 30 years but it’s finally arrived,” he said.
“It’s fantastic to be in the sheep game.”
Mr Herbert’s presentation focused around the main profit drivers for lamb production, as well as running sheep.
He has been keeping track of the industry since the 1980s and presented the historical data to show “how good things are in relation to what they have been”.
Mr Herbert said the benchmarking figures on a dollar per DSE basis going back to 1984 revealed that the profitability today was “virtually the same as what it was in the wool boom of the late 1980s”.
“But it’s different this time,” he said.
“The main difference is back then 90pc of the sheep income was derived from wool production, whereas today its 60:40 or 40:60 depending on who you are.
“So there has been a real change in the real value of sheep for the farm producer.”
Mr Herbert said the important thing at the moment was that there was tremendous opportunity to generate profits from sheep.
“Now is the time people should be pinning their ears back and trying really hard to make as much money out of sheep as they can because the reward is definitely tremendous,” he said.
WA has a Merino-dominant sheep industry, at about 92 per cent.
Mr Herbert said the vast majority of lambs were “first-cross Merino to a British breed of some kind”.
“A weakness in the sheep industry was people focussing on profits per head instead of “production per hectare profits”, which happens in cropping he said.
“When we are making money out of sheep it is all about generating income,” he said.
“It’s less about how we generate that income and more about what that income is.
“The more money you make from sheep the profits tend to go up irrespective of what sheep system you are running.
“So if you are producing lambs or wool, or a bit of both, that’s not the issue – the issue is how well you are doing it?
“When in the lamb game we make money by selling lambs.
“So lamb production per hectare would be a big driver of profitability from lambs.”
Mr Herbert said people believed lambing percentage was a big driver of lamb profitability but evidence showed that the more ewes on farm, the more lambs would be at foot.
“It’s a very, very strong correlation and it comes back to stocking rate,” he said.
“The more ewes you run you tend to generate more lamb productivity.
“I can hear people thinking – doesn’t lambing percentage go down when you run more ewes?
“In my experience as people increase stocking rates their management changes and productivity is sustained and sometimes increased.
“The people at those higher stocking rates are doing things differently to make it work.
“Ask yourself the question first – how can I run more ewes?
“What do I need to change to allow that to happen?
“Because that’s where you get more reliable significant increase in lamb productivity.
“Once you have addressed that issue then you can focus on trying to increase lambing percentage.”
Mr Herbert said to maximise profitability producers have been looking for lambs with some basic traits to select from and the Merino ewe was “an integral part of this process”.
“And when we look at the Merino ewe she has four jobs.
“She has to get into lamb, she has to rear a lamb, she has to produce a fleece and most importantly she has to get back into lamb – to do it all again.”
Mr Herbert said while fertility was an important issue, there was also a case for culling early those ewes that were not performing to the farm objective.
“If you are looking to increase the number of lambs weaned, getting rid of those ewes early in the process would markedly improve the reproductive efficiency of your ewe flock,” he said.
Mr Herbert said it was important for a ewe lamb to be fit and healthy in order to reach condition score three post weaning and the quicker she could do that it would take “a lot of risk out of the equation and improves management, and you end up with more lambs at the end of the day”.
“What we need to do there is simply to increase the fat in these ewes,” he said.
“Fat ewes generally recover from lambing quicker and then they generally present to the ram and produce more lambs – it’s quite simple.”
There were some things that the industry didn’t need and that was “fly strike... daggy sheep, and we don’t want sheep to be suffering from worms”.
Mr Herbert said sheep had a weakness and that was that they needed to be touched and handled, which was a real barrier.
“So the sheep we need really has to be an easy care sheep – to take that necessity of intense labour out of the equation,” he said.
“We have looked at quite a few genetic traits and a lot of those traits are interrelated.
“So what we need to do is be very clear about what we are trying to breed and that starts with having a very clearly, defined breeding objective.
“That gives us clear direction and keeps us honest – there’s distractions, there’s fads that come and go and they shouldn’t distract you from what you are trying to do – breeding is a long-term game and you need to maintain continual focus.”
Mr Herbert said part of the objective should “take into consideration what your view of the economics are, what the environmental considerations or constraints – and they can vary across regions and they will even vary between farms”.
He finished his presentation by asking what do producers need to do or change to enable the running of more ewes?
“Because at the moment there is this fantastic opportunity to make money,” he said.