IN addition to the usual hustle and bustle of the annual Rabobank WA Sheep Expo and Sale, the Great Southern Merino Sheepbreeders’ Association booked in another perk for attendees at this year’s event.
Three special guests were invited to speak at a Merino development seminar at Katanning on Friday, which was well attended by about 30 people.
Speakers included Rabobank commodity analyst Georgia Twomey, Planfarm consultant Paul Omodei and well-known sheep nutrition expert John Milton.
The discussion was kicked off by Ms Twomey, who works as part of the Rabobank research team based in Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, specialising in fibre (wool and cotton).
Her presentation looked at international wool market dynamics and trends, with Ms Twomey saying bottom line, the Merino industry was looking positive.
“The export outlook is positive from the demand side,” Ms Twomey said.
“China, India and Europe all want Australian wool but China remains your key story as both a processor and a consumer.”
Ms Twomey said the growing population in China and its ability to buy luxury goods and fashion which utilises wool means good things for domestic demand for Australian wool in China going forward.
“There are always risks and things to look out for when prices have been going one way for two and a half years and Chinese reactions to (United States president) Donald Trump’s trade decisions are certainly something to watch,” she said.
With high wool prices keeping producers excited about demand, Ms Twomey said demand for natural fibres in general was positive and another good sign for Australian woolgrowers.
Paul Omodei, Planfarm, focused on identifying opportunities for producers to expand their sheep enterprises.
He used results from interviews with top performing producers to provide a list of attributes successful sheep farmers share, including flexibility, timeliness, resilience, passion and attention to detail.
“There’s no better time than now to be investing in productivity in your sheep enterprise,” Mr Omodei said.
“That’s what the profitable farmers are doing.
“They are investing in productivity grains right now, when prices are good, to help them achieve their long-term goals.
“That is a really important point – don’t let go of long-term goals when you’re seeing strong prices.
“Think about investing that money back into your business for the future.”
Mr Omodei said strong prices offered a great opportunity for producers to interrogate their farming systems.
“Farm productivity analysis is really important and we know those who measure, analyse and then make changes are the most profitable producers,” he said.
Mr Omodei gave a list of 10 one per centers that can make 10 per cent differnece, including the importance of measuring, recording, analysing and adapting, as well as conducting farm productivity analyses, culling poor performers at every opportunity, having a clear breeding objective, keeping ground cover over summer and having seasonal strategies based on analogue production years.
“It’s important to remember that no one system fits all, which is why it’s important to regularly interrogate your operating system and ask where changes can be made for the better,” Mr Omodei said.
Dr Milton concluded the seminar by speaking about management strategies for Merino ewes and weaners, as well as feeding for production.
He said producers needed to be feeding for production, not for maintenance, which means planning to have adequate feed resources.
“You shouldn’t just be maintaining your weaners, you should be feeding them to grow,” Dr Milton said.
“When you’re feeding breeding ewes, you need to be feeding them with a plan to wean quality lambs and that means giving them enough nutrients to produce plenty of colostrum and milk.
“You know your farms best, so you need to have a think about what you can do on your land to achieve the best results.
“But there are a lot of options out there – confinement feeding works, edible shelter works for lambing ewes, perennial pastures are a good long-term option, high sugar hay, lupins and so many others.”
Dr Milton gave a list of grazing options other than pasture suited to a range of set-ups and situations, including summer crops such as SS Sudan and millets, autumn sown oats on the back of an early break, crop grazing, lucerne, saltbush, new variety perennials such as Tedera, roughage options such as chaff dumps, crop straws and silage and, of course, cereal grains, lupins/pulses and pellets.
“It’s about meeting the need with feed and we’re dealing with biology folks – no one size fits all so you need to be thinking about what options suit your system best,” Dr Milton said.
He also spoke about managing ewes for a high conception rate.
“Ewes need to be at condition score three at joining for them to conceive plenty of lambs,” he said.
“It’s very important for producers to learn how to condition score and then use that skill to get the most out of their sheep.”
Given the show judging was on-going during the seminar, it was very well attended with lots of questions from the room following each presentation.