Pushing production and profit

29 Jun, 2015 02:00 AM
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Adam Dagg's good working dogs Rube, Roxy, Bean and Sako make sheep work less stressful for stock and workers.
It is more labour intensive than cropping but sheep are easier to get into.
Adam Dagg's good working dogs Rube, Roxy, Bean and Sako make sheep work less stressful for stock and workers.

ADAM Dagg is not yet 30 years old but his qualifications and experience has gained him a job managing a big South Coast sheep and cropping enterprise.

The former Kiwi grew up on the family farm at Eketahuna in the lower North Island but succession planning did not allow the farm to be passed on to the next generation.

Eight years ago he packed his bags and headed for a dot on the Australian map which happened to be Perth.

But unlike many other New Zealanders who made a bee-line to the mines, Adam wanted to work with sheep.

“I grew up on a sheep farm and loved them – I guess it was in my blood,” Adam said.

“I had always worked with sheep and as part of my training I had gained certificates from an agricultural institute which was probably the equivalent to TAFE here.”

After working in sheep enterprises at Newdegate for a couple of years then moving to a Dandaragan property he landed his current position as manager for Warrick and Lynda Cooper whose substantial landholding is spread over three properties at Mt Barker, Cheynes Beach and Kojaneerup.

While his Cheynes Beach home-base gave Adam the green southerly location he was seeking it is also the most challenging of the three properties when it comes to sheep husbandry.

Hemmed in by a blue gum plantation, national park and nature reserve and just five kilometres from the ocean the temperature is warmer and rainfall is in the 650-700 millimetre range while Kojaneerup, just 40km from the coast, is a mere 450mm.

Adam’s management brief is simple – increase production and profitability.

In the eight months he has been there Adam has been understanding and assessing the production system and environmental conditions and making changes.

The three properties are structured to run more than 5000 breeding ewes in a predominantly wool and prime lamb operation and when Adam arrived there was also a big wether flock comprising four age groups.

The Kojaneerup farm is the only one to include a cropping component, with barley grown as a cash crop and sheep feed.

They also grow oats which can be grazed and give them as good marketing options as hay or grain if not stored as supplementary feed.

Kojaneerup is also the breeding centre producing all the Merino ewes for the three farms.

For the past two years they have been based on Angenup bloodlines and the flock is classed to maintain a quality Merino ewe line.

The cull ewes find a place in the White Suffolk prime lamb flocks at Cheynes Beach and Mt Barker.

Adam said the system means they don’t have to buy in replacement ewes and the straight line of Merinos give them the benefit of a good Merino wool clip.

Apart from having some definite ideas to increase production on-farm, Adam also believes there is a need for all areas of the sheep industry to play their part in making sheep an attractive option for the next generation of farmers.

That starts with education and he looks forward to the Sheep’s Back information days to glean new ideas.

Too often he says young people perceive sheep as too hard.

“It is more labour intensive than cropping but sheep are easier to get into,” he said.

“They are a sustainable industry and I can’t ever see wool becoming a by-product of lamb because both have an equal role in sheep farming profitability.”

One of Adam’s answers to the work load is to have good working dogs, saying they perform an important role when handling sheep, saving him a lot of legwork and keeping a stress-free operation.

He has a team of four working dogs and works them all together with their obedience a sight to behold.

The use of a handling race also makes life easier.

Adam’s choice is the New Zealand-made Combi Clamp which he uses for all husbandry tasks and weighing.

The Combi Clamp is one of the cheaper units on the market and because it is operated manually it is both simple and quiet to use.

He was so impressed with the unit he took on the WA distributorship four years ago and is often at field days and shows giving demonstrations.

He also believes studs have a role to play in producing good affordable commercial sires.

As a sizeable commercial operation they should be able to get good Merino rams in the $500-$1000 price range.

“We don’t want $10,000 rams but a ram in that price range should still be a good commercial animal,” he said.

At the other end, abattoirs must play their part to ensure sheep numbers are sustained and he suggested less volatility and more consistent prices at the $5 a kilogram range for prime lamb would give long-term confidence and provide the incentive to keep people in the industry.

After arriving at Cheynes Beach, Adam’s first move was to sell off two age groups of wethers to make room for a more productive flock and to start pregnancy testing to identify ewes carrying multiple lambs so management could be tailored for maximum survival.

Mating is over 2.5 cycles and dry ewes play the role of wethers while the multiple birth ewes are drafted into smaller mobs and run at a lighter stocking rate.

They are turning off nearly 6000 prime lambs and his main concern is lambs per ewe.

Historically the flock has been achieving better than 100 per cent lambing and with the changes he has set a personal target to achieve more than 110pc in the first 12 months.

“I find the Merino ewe is very fertile but it all depends on management and keeping them in condition score three or better to give them the best chance to have multiple births,’’ he said.

Another change has been to switch to shearing every eight months.

“I know a lot of people don’t like the idea because of the extra work and cost but research shows an animal should grow as much wool in eight months as it does in 12 months but there are also health and welfare benefits from carrying a lighter fleece,’’ Adam said.

“The wool is generally better too. There is less tender wool and a more consistent micron.

“If the flock wasn’t cutting a reasonable weight then there is no point doing it.”

Adam said wool records showed the wethers’ wool measured 110mm staple length and the entire flock was cutting about 5kg/head per year, making it worthwhile.

The shift to December, August and April shearing should still enable them to produce a marketable 80mm staple.

The prime lamb operation centres on a least cost production system with lambs dropped from early May and ideally turned off before Christmas.

They have contracts with WAMMCO but are also open to other marketing options.

Adam said there is plenty to still challenge him in terms of pasture improvement and sheep health and he is looking forward and enjoying the opportunity to push the boundaries in his new position.

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