Lockyers reap benefits of dual purpose breed

11 Aug, 2004 10:00 PM
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FARMERS are increasingly looking to first cross ewes in a bid to get more lambs but Greg, Anne-Marie and Nicholas Lockyer have long been reaping the rewards of a true dual purpose breed.

The Lockyer family, who own Moree Grazing Company at Tambellup, owns arguably the state's biggest pure commercial Corriedale flock and, after running them side by side with Merinos for the past 15 years, have an enormous appreciation of the advantage the breed has over Merinos.

The Corriedale flock has been part of the property since 1935 and it wasn't until wool crashed that they took advantage of low prices to buy in two age groups of AMS ewes and run a fine wool flock that has since been based on Yarrum Valley.

It enabled them to take advantage of high fine wool prices but more recently the broader Corriedale wool - generally the ewes measure in the 26-28 micron range - has been holding its own with prices as high as 750c/kg (2002) and 585c/kg (2003) for fine crossbred lines.

Greg admits there is some sentimental attachment to the Corriedales but economically they hold their own against the Merinos.

He said they cut about a kilogram less but that is offset by a consistently higher lambing percentage.

While they budget on 80pc lambing from the Merinos - the five year average has been closer to 75pc - they expect an overall average of 90-95pc from the Corriedales and last year they averaged 105pc.

There also is the added bonus of a much better constitution giving them more versatility through their ability to lamb virtually any time of the year and produce a good lamb.

Anne-Marie says it is rare when grain, lamb and wool prices are all buoyant at the same time and the Corriedales give them the flexibility to make stocking rate changes to capture better markets for each enterprise by manipulating numbers and lambing times.

Even though lamb prices are currently at high levels the prime lamb, wool and cropping enterprises are integrated to give a long-term balance to overall income.

They are currently running 1800 Merino ewes and the same number of Corriedale ewes and use Poll Dorset rams as terminal sires over selected age groups.

The Merino ewes are lambed down in June and the wethers are carried through for two and sometimes three shearings before being sold.

Alternatively the Corriedale ewes are joined for a September lambing.

Greg said the late lambing fits in well for turning off lambs in the early autumn but he wouldn't try it with the Merinos.

By setting up a good grass seed-free paddock in the spring for weaning they are able to carry the lambs through - later on lupin stubbles - before they go onto a feedlot for a short finishing period.

Because of the Corriedales' ability to milk well, regardless of the time of the year, it is allows them to make changes if the season is tough.

It is this flexibility and the Corriedale's ease of management and handling that has endeared them to all family members.

As a student at Denmark Agricultural College, Nicholas won the Merino wool judging at Woolorama then continued on to win the state title at the Perth Royal Show and the national title at the Hobart Royal show in 2002.

This year he is a junior judging over-judge at the Perth Royal show and is a steward in the wool section.

Despite these credentials he has no hesitation in declaring his preference for the Corriedale.

"They are a lot easier to manage because they are not as highly strung as the Merino," he said.

"There is no fleece rot or dermo and because of the black skin pigmentation cancer is rare."

As a bonus to their milking ability, big number of twins and their determined mothering ability and ease of handling they find there is no need to mules their Corriedales because of their plainer bodies.

They receive numerous phone calls seeking surplus Corriedale ewes.

But because of the number of prime lambs they are producing they generally keep their breeding sheep to at least 6.5 years of age regardless whether they are Merino or Corriedale.

The oldest age group is joined to Poll Dorset sires for an April drop. Similarly all their maiden Corriedale ewe hoggets are first joined to Poll Dorsets in December and these lambs are sold as suckers in September or October.

Greg said the mature age groups have more reliable lambing rates and by joining maiden ewes to Poll Dorsets they do not need to depend on them to ensure they have sufficient replacements.

They turn off about 1000-1200 lambs a year to meet domestic market specifications.

Greg said they have improved their skills as members of Q Lamb but they don't always sell through Hillside Meats.

Instead they decide on each consignment as it is ready, sometimes preferring the convenience and wider price grid of WAMMCO International.

With the exception of the September drop Poll Dorset/Corriedale lambs they aim to sell everything off pasture including the purebred Corriedale wether lambs.

These are carried through until almost 12 months of age and shorn and for the past two years have been sold on-farm for $85 a head.

Also paramount to their success is their philosophy of breeding the best they can and not settling for second best.

While continually working to improve wool cut in the Merinos their Corriedale goal is to increase body size and weight.

Because of the concentration that Corralyn studmaster Arthur Pederick has paid to wool quality in the past decade they can afford to disregard wool quality and concentrate on carcase attributes when selecting sires.

And because of the Corriedale's generous mothering ability they pay attention to negative fat estimated breeding values when selecting sires from Koojan Poll Dorsest stud at Kojonup.

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