Sheep mix works at Pingelly

27 Aug, 2013 02:00 AM
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 Pingelly farmer Tim Wiles is keeping his market options open by running both Merinos and White Suffolk first-cross lambs. He believes the area is well suited to higher sheep stocking rates.
Pingelly farmer Tim Wiles is keeping his market options open by running both Merinos and White Suffolk first-cross lambs. He believes the area is well suited to higher sheep stocking rates.

PINGELLY is one of those rare areas of WA that have resisted the total cropping trend, with most farmers preferring to stick with the mix of sheep and crop.

Not only do many producers run substantial numbers of sheep, but over the last couple of decades there has also been a swing toward crossbreeding a certain proportion of Merinos for market flexibility.

Diversification using crossbreeding is a familiar concept to Tim and Tammy Wiles, with 70 per cent of their 1830 hectare Rockdale property covered by cropping and the other 30pc dedicated to their sheep enterprise.

Traditionally a Merino flock, Tim said they had always dabbled in crossbreeding as a smaller component of their sheep operation, for as long as he could remember.

"In this area there's certainly a fair bit of crossbreeding going on," he said.

"It splits things up a bit so that when one market is down, another might be up.

"Occasionally you might even get both at the same time.

"Our farm has always been more suited to running larger numbers of sheep to the hectare, so we've been able to make good money from them."

When Tim returned to the farm from school in 1989, Merinos were still the dominant breed but even back then the Wiles family was crossbreeding a proportion of their flock with Poll Dorsets.

That was until three years ago, when they started searching for another breed after shearing the Poll Dorset lambs in October, only for them to go to wool over summer rather than getting fatter.

They decided to use White Suffolk rams, as the Wiles found the lambs were generating more meat than the Poll Dorset without compromising their fleece.

Of their 1400 Merino ewes, 600 are mated to White Suffolks while the remaining 800 are joined to Merino rams.

"The White Suffolks are fast growers, they are easy to get up to specification," Tim said.

"You can tell them apart from the Merinos quite easily.

"But I'm happy to still have wool to sell as well.

"Other people have changed to breeds where the wool is worth nothing but we still average six kilograms a head across the board."

Tim said after changing to Woodyarrup bloodlines for his Merino flock, he believes the quality of his wool has lifted while still being able to produce an efficient Merino lamb.

Lambing occurs from late June through to the start of August, with the Merino wether lambs running on lupins and barley stubbles over the summer period.

The Merino-White Suffolk cross lambs are put through a feedlot on the property in order to turn them off early when they reached an ideal weight.

For the last four years, the sheep grazing the paddocks haven't missed out either, with the additional luxury of a lick feeder designated to each mob.

They aim to get their lambs up to an average of 22kg dressed and start selling them when they reach between eight to 12 months, which was easily achieved with the Merino-White Suffolk lambs.

"I guess we put a bit more feed into the crossbreds through the feedlot system," Tim said.

"There have been years when we tried to put Merinos through the feedlot and not sell to the shippers, but we still get less for them.

"Merinos don't really pay as much, and they are a lot harder to get up in the feedlot so that's the main reason we crossbreed."

The 16 Merino rams and 16 White Suffolk rams were joined in late January at 2pc and are pulled out during shearing at the end of February.

The White Suffolk rams are purchased from a local Pingelly stud, the Paterson family's Murelleson stud, and Tim said one of the best things about British breed rams was the breeding figures available.

In order to gauge conception rates and effectively allocate winter feed, the Wiles family has been using pregnancy testing for the last 10 years.

This is done in April so all the dry ewes can be sold before winter.

Tim said it had been instrumental in lifting their lambing percentages to a consistent 100pc for both breeds, while also allowing them to separate those ewes with twins in order to better manage their feed requirements.

"We need to maximise the number of sheep to the hectare as much as we can," he said.

"Conception rates are a very important part of that, so we have found pregnancy scanning to be very helpful."

Once they are ready to be sold, the market then determines where they end up and Tim recently sold some of his Merino-White Suffolk lambs for $98/head while some Merino wether lambs went to live exporters at the same time for $70/head.

The price difference wasn't unusual, but despite this Tim believed the live export market needed to continue in order for the prices to lift again and keep many people in the sheep industry.

"The way the animal liberationists are going, they might be able to stop it," he said.

"But there are a lot of people fighting for it and there is still a lot of sheep in our area, so it directly affects all of us.

"There's still money in sheep and we will always have them, especially around Pingelly because we're not as suited to cropping as other places."

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