A 2004 decision to invest in local Prime SAMM genetics as a hedge against increasing problems in the Merino industry is paying handsome dividends for Dumbleyung farmers Colin and Jacki Ball and their family.
A line of 163 Prime SAMM lambs from their Dongolocking farm delivered 96.9 per cent of carcases in WAMMCO’s premium grade to win the co-operative’s Producer of the Month title for October.
The lambs were processed at Katanning on October 4, at an average weight of 21.59 kilograms to return $122.59 per head including skin.
Colin and son Marc said sound returns from this and other lamb consignments this season had helped their recovery and boosted their confidence after a severe frost which decimated roughly half of their 2016 harvest.
“We decided to go to the local Rockdale Prime SAMM stud for rams in 2004, when there was serious talk about banning mulesing and on-going indifference in the wool market,” Colin said.
“Our base has been Merino many years and we began using Prime SAMM rams over about 200 cull Merino ewes.”
Today, the prime lamb enterprise consists of 1000 ewes, 50/50 Prime SAMM and cull Merino, with a Merino flock of 2400 ewes adding an improving income from about 200 bales of 21 micron wool each year.
They use Prime SAMM rams from the nearby Cronin family’s Bunkin flock, which is also of Rockdale origin.
“The Prime SAMMs are extremely easy-care and we find them excellent at scavenging paddocks to prepare them for cropping,” Colin said.
“They have excelled again this year over the late start and wet finish to the season.”
Colin said local Landmark agent Scott Jefferis was integral to the lamb operation, undertaking most of the classing, weighing and marketing operations and assisting with building truck consignments for WAMMCO.
The lamb breeding flock is mated to Prime SAMM rams in November to drop lambs onto pasture and allow the delivery of drafts to market usually before harvest.
Late conditions have caused an overlap this year, with final drafts being sent off to Katanning in November – one week into a promising harvest.
“We have come to depend heavily on WAMMCO for maintaining a solid base for lamb prices and for paying a trading rebate when they can,” Colin said.
He said sheep had always represented a strong component of the family farm enterprise as it developed after being taken up in 1922 by his grandfather Charles and taken over in 1938 by his father Horace.
Colin returned to the farm from the WA College of Agriculture, Narrogin, in 1976.
His son Marc joined the operation after graduating from Muresk in 2005 and he and his wife Roisin have a two-year-old son Dylan and a new baby Mikey.
Josh has been helping out on the property, while Scott farms at Lake Varley with his partner Sue Anne Naughton and Ellie is based in Karratha.
Dongolocking farm comprises 4000ha in the Dumbleyung area and its Prime SAMMs took two placings in the 2015 WAMMCO State carcase competition, when entries were previously judged on VIASCAN data.
Colin and Marc welcome the simpler judging criteria and automatic entry for lamb producers being applied to the monthly and annual lamb title contests run by the co-operative.
WAMMCO’s new criteria for their Producer of the Month award has not only brought new contenders from a wider area of WA into the winners’ circle, it has also intensified competition between the top scorers each month.
Co-ordinator Rob Davidson said October was no exception with winner Colin’s score of 96.9pc of his lambs in the premium grade, just ahead of two lines of lambs from Aldersyde breeder Wally Mills at 95.9pc and 95.8pc and a draft from Pingelly breeder Bruce Sewell at 95.7pc.
He said tight seasonal conditions had made the job of achieving premium weights and grades tougher for everyone turning off lambs.
Wally said he was surprised to learn that his drafts of October lambs had performed so well.
“We were hard pressed to get them to the required weights because we had virtually no pasture and were using lick feeders in selected paddocks to get them up to scratch,” Wally said.
“We were hearing about big numbers of 30-32kg lambs going east or onto boats because producers were unable to feed them.”
Wally said four inches of summer rain had sparked a terrific pasture germination, but there was no follow-up and the pasture died.
He was still holding about 800 lambs on the property in November when normally all of his lambs would have been sold.
A legacy was that he had been unable to buy in about 400 breeding ewes for next year’s lamb operation and would have less lambs to market.
Bruce said early decisions to reduce his cropping program by several paddocks, to drench his lambs early and to spray early for red legged earthmite, appeared to have paid off.
Areas of red clover disease appeared to have survived after spraying.
“We were going OK until the end of October when the feed disappeared and lamb weights began to drop dramatically,” Bruce said.
“We will be feeding probably about 750 lambs over Christmas for market in the new year.”
In November the ewes were in top condition for mating with the Border Leicester cross ewes first to be joined, followed by the Prime SAMM cross ewes.