SHEEP producers are being urged by The Sheep’s Back to “aim to get the higher output per head at the higher stocking rate” if they want to see the best return on their investment.
To achieve that producers may need to focus on keeping their stock at condition score three by “filling the feed gap with purchased feed or preferably growing more green feed”.
The advice came out of results to the Sheep’s Back 2017/18 Benchmarking Survey, which doubled as it’s Summer 2019 newsletter, released last week.
The results of 120 surveyed sheep enterprises across WA highlighted the variations in production due to rainfall differences.
“Again the key message from The Sheep’s Back Benchmarking Survey is that there’s a very large range in production outputs per unit of rainfall,” it summarised.
The enterprises surveyed included 2.75 million kilograms of wool sold, 350,000 lambs marked, as well as stating that “of the 360,000 ewes mated, 74 per cent were mated to a Merino”.
The information from the survey means an opportunity to benchmark “not only against enterprises in your rainfall area but also against the rest of the State in terms of output per unit of rainfall,” the survey said.
“With high sheep and wool prices, a small change in output can result in large changes to a business’s bottom line.
“With this in mind, could your business improve its sheep enterprise for 2019?”
The survey covered stocking rates and wool and lamb production.
It was expected that stocking rates would be “extremely diverse due to the geographical difference of The Sheep’s Back members”.
“However, when plotting stocking rate per winter grazed hectare (WGHa) there is a considerable variation in any given rainfall for the 2017/18 season,” the survey said.
“The stocking rate per unit of rainfall ranges from 0.3 DSE/ WGHa/100mm GSR to 4.3 DSE/WGHa/100mm.
“This is a 14-fold difference for the same unit of rainfall.”
The stocking rate range is also demonstrated across similar geographical areas.
An example was given from the Kojonup shire where the stocking rate ranged from 10 DSE/WGHa to 15.7 DSE/WGHa, “wool production per hectare and lambs per ewe hectare also have a similar range,” it said.
“The rainfall and soil type do vary across the shire but not by 57pc as the stocking rate suggests.
“There are many reasons why there is such a large range in stocking rates given similar rainfall.
“Some of these reasons are valid, but many are not.”
Some of the potential reasons included soil type, lambing time, sheep type, flock composition, business debt levels, age of operator, enterprise mix and mindset.
“There is a range of stocking rates for any postcode across WA,” the survey said.
- Harvest is done, now it's time for sheep
- Record sheep prices a feature of 2018, while cattle prices remained steady
“It is unlikely that any of these reasons result in a 50pc reduction in potential stocking rate in a small geographical region.
“If your sheep enterprise is on the lower end of the potential stocking rate, do you know the reasons for this?
“Rather than backing off your stocking rate because commodity prices are high, aim to get the higher output per head at your current stocking rate.
“For this to happen the sheep must be kept in condition score three.”
The survey went on to say that there was a substantial range in wool production per head and also wool production per unit of rainfall.
“The average wool cut was 4 kg/DSE but the range was from 2.2 kg/DSE to 7.5 kg/DSE,” it said.
“This is a large difference in production per head and when multiplied by the wool price is a significant amount of money.
“The wool production per hectare is driven by the stocking rate and to a lesser extent the wool production per DSE.
“The range of wool production is 52.5kg/WGHa to 1.3kg/WGHa which is expected given the geographical differences.
“However what is surprising is that wool production per unit of rainfall ranges from 1kg/WGHa/100 mm GSR to 17.6kg/WGHa/100 mm.”
There was also an enormous range in lambing rates from 56pc to 131pc over various rainfall zones and various stocking rates.
“The majority of lambing rates fell between 80pc and 110pc but this is very significant given the range exists at similar stocking rates,” it said.
“If two sheep systems are running at 7 DSE/WGHa but have lambing rates of 80pc and 110pc, then the system with the higher lambing rate will produce an extra 1.4 lambs/ewe per hectare.
“At a lambing rate of 80pc this is 3.7 lambs/ewe ha and at a lambing rate of 110pc this is 5.1 lambs per/ha.”
The Sheep’s Back recommended to “aim for higher outputs while commodity prices are high”.
“For many sheep enterprises it is unrealistic to aim at the top outputs per unit of rainfall, however, it is very realistic for your system to produce average to above average type numbers,” it said.
The average outputs per unit of rainfall from both the 2015 and 2017 were: stocking rate per unit of rainfall – 2.35 DSE/WGHa/100mm GSR, wool production per unit of rainfall – 8.8 kg/WGHa/100 mm GSR, lambs per ewe Ha per unit of rainfall – 1.65 lambs/Ewe Ha/100mm GSR.
The Sheep’s Back said that “the feedbase is the mainstay of our system” and producers should ask themselves if they could “look after your clover better by improving inoculant strains, improving soil constraints and planting new cultivars?”
It suggested looking at alternative pasture species that would allow the growing season to be extended, including Kikuyu, saltbush, Serradellas and long season grasses.
It said there may be fertiliser strategies on pasture to assist.
“Can using more phosphorus or potassium grow more feed, or can more nitrogen be applied to pastures?”
It suggested considering planting when moisture was available, with winter or long season varieties, oats or just ‘normal’ pasture mixes.
“Every sheep enterprise has areas that can be improved to increase the sheep margin, these will be different for every business and identifying these is not always simple,” it said.
“Hopefully these simple benchmarks can start you on a path to improving your profit.”
“Commodity prices are exceptional and this means small changes in the sheep enterprise can result in large changes to a business’s bottom line.”
The Sheep’s Back plans for the survey to be an annual event and will send out another sheep survey for the 2018/19 season.