A DECISION to change the direction of their livestock operation seven years ago, is certainly paying dividends for the White family at Wandering.
For more than 40 years, Merinos had been the breed of choice on the family's "Wilgarra" property, but low returns year after year for wether lambs, made the family decide to reassess their operation.
Today Grant White, along with his wife Kerry and parents Don and Carol, run 4000 first-cross Prime SAMM ewes over 3640 hectares of owned (2020ha) and leased (1620ha) land in the Wandering shire.
Grant said they made the decision to change the composition of the flock from Merinos to first-cross Prime SAMMs, so they had more flexibility with marketing of their lambs.
"By introducing the Prime SAMMs into the flock, it meant not only could we use the traditional export market for our lambs but we could also sell them as prime lambs to processors," Grant said.
"Year after year we were giving away our wether lambs at $25 a head onto the boats.
"Selling 2500 head at these values just wasn't practical and we couldn't hold them over, so we knew we had to change.
"Looking at where the markets are now it is probably lucky we did change, as the export market is really struggling."
When they made the decision to change, they mated all their Merino ewes to Prime SAMM rams and in the following years went about replacing their Merino ewes with first-cross Prime SAMM ewes, keeping 1000 replacements a year.
But it is not only the additional marketing opportunities for their lambs which the Prime SAMM genetics provide that have impressed the Whites.
Grant said by introducing Prime SAMM genetics their flock is now more easy-care and low maintenance.
"The ewes are always fat in summer and certainly need less feed than Merinos to maintain their condition," Grant said.
"They really love dry matter and do better in summer on dry stubbles than in winter on green feed.
"Generally they will maintain a condition score of 3-4 on barley stubbles in summer.
"We also have had very few fly problems."
Another big positive the Whites have noticed since making the change is an increase in lambing percentages.
"Even in the bad years now we are always pushing 100 per cent and with our Merinos we could only achieve 80pc in the good years," Grant said.
Last year the family achieved over 100pc lambing in its older ewes, but with the much better season this year Grant believes they should achieve 110pc over their entire flock.
Now that their flock is where they want it, the Whites are mating 3500 ewes to first-cross Prime SAMM rams.
By using first-cross Prime SAMM rams it means they are able to maintain their flock at an F1 status, which is something they are keen to do as they don't want their wool quality to drop off.
Currently the Whites average 18 microns for their hogget wool while their adult flock averages 20-21 microns.
As a result of keeping an eye on their wool quality last year, the White's fleece wool sold between 700 and 800c/kg greasy.
Grant said while they have been able to maintain the quality in the clip, they had noticed the F1 Prime SAMMs didn't cut as much as the Merinos.
"We knew this would be the case as they are a more plain-bodied, bare sheep," he said.
"But what you lose in wool cut you certainly make up in other areas, like lamb sales and lamb percentages."
Along with using first-cross Prime SAMM rams over their flock, the Whites also mate 500 ewes to Suffolk rams to produce lambs for early turn-off.
Grant said they had used Prime SAMM rams as a terminal sire over their F1 ewes and sold the progeny early but they had found it was better to go with Suffolks.
"You got a better lamb and you could nearly always get it off its mother earlier," Grant said.
"We are really using the Suffolks to produce a sucker lamb to turn straight off mum, as the Prime SAMM cross lambs are later maturing.
"Usually we sell 800 lambs as suckers off mum and generally 600 of them would be Suffolk cross.
"It is hard to get a Prime SAMM lamb off its mother as a sucker but in the long term they are equal to any other lamb, so using both Suffolk and F1 Prime SAMM sires works well."
Grant also believes by mating some of the ewes to Suffolks, it also gives them a bit of flexibility when it comes to marketing their lambs.
"We can either sell the lambs early if the price is right, or we can hang onto them and feed them," Grant said.
"If we can get between $80 and $90 for a sucker we are quite happy to take that but if it is not there we will just feed them."
The lambs which are not sold as suckers are weaned in October and shorn in November before going onto barley stubbles.
Generally from here the plan is for the lambs to go into a feedlot on the property on pellets for a maximum of three weeks and Grant said their aim was to produce a 20 to 24kg carcase weight lamb.
The Whites, however, did not use their feedlot in 2011 and 2012 as they were able to sell all their lambs to the live export market, as the prices were right.
But this is not the case this year, due to the lower prices in the last six months, the Whites took a gamble and hung on to the majority of their lambs.
"We have just put the first lot of lambs into the feedlot now and with lamb prices rising, it looks like the gamble may pay off," Grant said.
They were also lucky in October last year when they managed to sell 800 lambs as suckers for $80/head just before the market collapsed.
In 2011 and 2012, the family averaged $100/head for their lambs and in 2010 they averaged around $120/head, when most of the lambs sold to the live export market.
Lambing on the property starts mid-May, following a December/January mating where the rams are in with the ewes for seven weeks at two per cent.
Over the summer and in the lead up to lambing, the ewes are trail-fed Baudin barley up until a month before lambing and then they are trail-fed Milne Feeds EasyOne pellets.
Grant said when they started feeding the ewes barley depended on the season and this year they didn't start until February, which meant the ewes were only on it for six weeks.
The Whites also only feed Baudin barley as they believe it is the only barley you can feed successfully.
"It is the least toxic barley and we never had any trouble with feeding it," Grant said.
And when it comes to the benefits of feeding EasyOne pellets, Grant believes you can't get anything better.
"As soon as the ewes go onto the pellets you can see them put on weight and milk up," Grant said.
"The benefits you get out of the pellets certainly outweigh the costs.
"One year we were looking at our costs and thought the pellets were expensive so we decided not to use them, but we soon realised they weren't expensive at all.
"The year we didn't use them we had 10-15pc less lambs compared to when we had previously used them."
When it comes to replacement ewes the Whites retain 1000 ewe lambs a year and with good lambing percentage Grant said it meant they had 2500 to choose from.
Grant said with so many ewes to pick from it made it easy to pick good flock replacements each year.
"This means we can class heavily on wool which allows us to maintain our quality," Grant said.
"We really look for the average size ewes with the best wool.
"We want the medium-type frame ewes which will have a mature weight of 55-60kg, as don't need as much feed but still are able to produce as much."
It has never been the Whites' aim to breed "biggest" sheep and that was one of the reasons when they first chose to go down the Prime SAMM path they decided to purchase their rams from the Romilly Hills stud.
"The Romilly Hills sheep are fast maturing but then they plateau out which is something we really like," Grant said.
Along with keeping their eye on their livestock operation, the Whites also have a substantial cropping program which makes up 50pc of their farming operation.
This year they have sown 1820ha to Baudin barley and Crusher canola on their Wandering properties.
In addition to this they share crop another 600ha at Brookton.