Lotfeeding a prime proposition

01 Jun, 2011 04:00 AM
Farming in the Northampton-Chapman Valley area, Brad Eastough said he sometimes had to run his Merino flock quite hard.
Farming in the Northampton-Chapman Valley area, Brad Eastough said he sometimes had to run his Merino flock quite hard.

THERE's a certain amount of passion required to lotfeed large numbers of sheep.

This is particularly the case if you have anywhere between 5000 to 7000 sheep going through a feedlot each year, such as the two at Brad and Jan Eastough's property between Northampton and Chapman Valley.

In 2002 Brad and Jan moved to Utikka and they farm together with Brad's brother Ashley, his wife Belinda and their parents Kevin and maureen, over the six properties that make up their 5400 hectare farm.

Brad admits he had always wanted to run as many sheep as possible.

"I would rather run sheep than cropping," Brad said.

"What's better than working outdoors on the best days of the year, instead of sitting in an air-conditioned cab?"

Even though the Eastough family has seen their share of tough years and devastating droughts, Brad held onto his sheep when many in the area couldn't.

They started lotfeeding sheep in 2006 and purchased any breed of sheep he could from surrounding areas, as many farmers needed to off-load their numbers due to the drought.

"I had always wanted to do it (lotfeeding) and then in 2006 when there was a drought we built a feedlot here," Brad said.

"We bought a lot of sheep that were going cheap in the area and later we purchased our own stock truck to cut down on freight."

Even though nearly every type of breed might be purchased to go onto feed for 21 to 28 days, Brad remains truthful to his own flock of 1000 mated Merino ewes, 1000 older Merino ewes mated to Poll Dorset and 350 Merino ewe hoggets.

The Poll Dorsets were purchased in addition to the Eastough's traditional Merino flock 16 years ago and Brad chose the breed for its white wool, good pool of genetics and large frame.

After being mated for the first few years with Merino rams, the Merino ewes were then joined with Poll Dorset rams when they reach four years to produce lambs for the prime lamb market.

With a sire battery of 16 Merino rams and 40 Poll Dorset rams, many of which are from the Eastough's own breeding program, the Poll Dorsets are joined on October 25, while the Merino rams are joined on New Year's Eve.

Both breeds are mated at two per cent and the Poll Dorset rams are pulled out at shearing time in February while the Merinos are left with the ewes until crutching in March.

Those joined with Poll Dorset rams lamb at around March 16, while the Merinos lamb later around May 28 when there is usually more feed available.

The Poll Dorset-Merinos usually achieve about 95pc-100pc lambing, slightly lower than the Merinos at 100pc-110pc, which Brad believes may be due to lambing later in the year.

"I think because the Merinos lamb with cooler days and more feed available, they don't have to walk as far for a drink or food so they do a bit better," Brad said.

Another benefit of sticking with Merinos was growing soft-handling, bold crimping wool which averages 20 micron wool, which Brad said was the product of basing their flock on Strath-Haddon and Challara bloodlines.

The main shearing period occurs in August, while those ewes mated to Poll Dorsets are also shorn in February so they're not lambing with wool on them and can concentrate their energy on rearing lambs.

The Eastoughs have two 1000-head feedlots which are usually starting to crank up around September, October and November when Brad purchases most of the sheep through the Muchea Livestock Centre.

They use about 200 tonnes of grain every year in the feedlots and keep as much grain as possible on hand.

Buying, finishing and selling different breeds of sheep has also given Brad a strong indication of how different breeds perform.

"When you get them into the feedlot, you can usually tell those sheep that had come from quality breeding," Brad said.

"In saying that though, 90pc of a sheep's quality depends on what goes down its throat."

This is why the Eastoughs use the Elders Livestock Management Solutions (ELMS) which had proven to be more efficient for weight gain than solely using pellets.

By concentrating on getting the right balance of minerals and vitamins and using whole grains, Brad said they had come up with a mixture which consists of 70pc wheat, 25pc lupins and 5pc ELMS pellets.

"The best we've ever done was 600 grams per day with a line of Suffolks," Brad said.

"We tried the pellets but it didn't seem to work for us, we just didn't achieve the growth rates we wanted.

"It was also a bit cheaper to do the grain option, even though it's more intensive work."

Most of the sheep from the feedlot are sold to Livestock Shipping Services as the Eastoughs appreciated being told the price on-farm before the buyer leaves their property.

They also sell to the abattoirs, depending on where there is a truck-load leaving from the area, but they keep all their ewe lambs to operate as a self-replacing flock.

Brad said between 41kg and 47kg was the ideal weight to sell the lambs and keeping them for any longer was counter-productive and costly.

The Poll Dorsets were sold in August as suckers, as the Eastoughs like to have all their lambs gone by the end of October to make room for the lambs being brought in for the feedlot.

Once the sheep reach their goal weight, they were usually sold by March in time for the next lambing period and seeding and the cycle of producing excellent lambs from the Eastoughs' paddocks starts again.



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