THE key to maintaining a viable farming enterprise is all about getting the mix right and the Collins family, east of York, proves this on many levels.
Mitchell Collins is the fifth generation of his family to farm and he does this alongside his father Wayne and mother Sue.
Having two generations working side by side, for the past four years, is only the first of many instances where the family has found a successful combination.
Another synthesis that works best is the overall enterprise mix where the family operates cropping and sheep programs.
"We own and lease 4000 hectares in total," Mitchell said.
"We are comfortable with our current arrangements as we have a secure long-term lease," Wayne said.
The commercial sheep operation includes a feedlot for their lambs, which is on the home farm.
Together the family has worked out the ideal number of sheep to run within its business that is sustainable.
"We run 3200 Merino breeding ewes," Mitchell said.
"We mate these to both Poll Dorsets and White Suffolks."
Wayne said that traditionally both breeds did well in the area and that White Suffolks in particular were suited to their environmental conditions.
He said both breeds performed well for them, year-in, year-out and they were satisfied with the results they get.
"They have good growth rates," Wayne said.
"We find they are good long-bodied, fast-growing sheep," Mitchell said.
"They are hardy sheep and they do well in the feedlot situation."
Wayne said he liked the White Suffolk breed slightly more as they were easier to lamb and tended to be easier to manage overall.
The Collins family predominantly buy its rams from the Fairclough family's local Stockdale stud, York.
"I would say 80 per cent of our sheep are Stockdale bloodlines," Mitchell said.
"We are comfortable with their genetics and have the proven results."
Management is a key factor in any successful business and this is a definite tried-and-tested method the Collins family utilises to keep the sheep program operating at its optimum in any given season.
It helps that this involves another part of business - stock feed.
The family also operates the local Milne Feeds depot from the home farm and as testament to the value of the feed sold, it utilises EasyOne pellets for both its pregnant ewes and within its own feedlot.
"It is easier for us to sell the grain we grow and buy pellets for feed, rather than rationing ourselves," Wayne said.
"Previously we would feed a mix of lupins and barley.
"We find it much simpler to give the sheep a balanced diet with the pellets and have no wastage.
"It is more convenient, has proven results and saves us time."
To keep the pregnant ewes in prime condition for lambing and mothering, the family trail feeds EasyOne pellets out three times a week.
This has been very productive this year and the ewe feeding regime has been extended slightly longer, due to the tight year, which has seen the ewes thrive.
Joining takes place around mid to late December at a ratio of 2.5 per cent, but this is flexible to allow for differing seasonal circumstances and they adhere to the philosophy a late lamb is better than no lamb.
"This year we joined a mob early, before we knew how the year would turn out," Wayne said.
"But we often leave the rams in longer too, because we don't mind a late lamb, we can always do something with them."
The Collins lambing average is about 90pc and its focus is maintaining consistent quality.
Lambs are shorn in early October and put out onto stubble, where they ideally make 38kg liveweight.
The main shearing time has been shifted from traditional spring shearing in September.
"We have gone to March shearing for ease of management," Wayne said.
The lambs are taken out at the March shearing time, when they have hopefully achieved their target weight.
Within the feedlot, the family uses the pellets in lick feeders, which means less maintenance and maximum growth and nutrition.
"Once the lambs get to around 38kg liveweight we put them into the feedlot," Mitchell said.
"The aim is to get them to 50kg in the feedlot by the four week mark, or by five to six weeks at the latest."
The family, with its local stock agent, find the best market for its lambs.
"Prices are really good at the moment," Wayne said.
"It pays to give yourself options and not rely on the one market all the time.
"This has meant for us, so far, the live sheep uncertainty hasn't affected us noticeably."
Understanding that diversification minimises risk, coupled with a passion for sheep means the Collins has been considering breeding their own Merino ewes in the future.
"Sheep are definitely worth having," Wayne said.
"Especially at the prices we are seeing."
"But the prices of ewes are ever increasing and with the production of Merino ewes and availability at current levels, it makes sense to move into breeding our own in the future."
While breeding their own ewes would be a bigger task to undertake, the Collins family will start with a move into utilising lick feeders for its ewes this year as a start to its future plans.