THE O'Meehan family, Borden, can claim to being one of the State's best prime lamb producers after taking home the top award in the 2018/19 WAMMCO Producer of the Year awards at Katanning last week.
The WAMMCO Producer of the Year awards, which are in its third year, replaced the State Prime Lamb Carcase Competition and were introduced to enable more WAMMCO suppliers to be eligible for recognition.
Over the three years of awards WAMMCO has distributed $75,000 in cash, meat eskies filled with WAMMCO lamb and donated product to winning producers.
WAMMCO supply and development manager Rob Davidson said the awards were designed to enhance the efficiencies at all levels of the WAMMCO business.
"That means efficiencies through supply, the plant and marketing of the product," Mr Davidson said.
"A carcase with a dressed weight of 18.1-28 kilograms with a fat score of 2 or 3 is the ideal carcase we are looking for as a processor, but it is also important that the carcase is defect free which means no overfat, free of ovis, pleurisy, grass seeds, arthritis and dog bites.
"It is also critical from a processor point of view we have lambs to process all year round and hence the allocation of 20 per cent of the points for lamb supply, with the points weighted to lambs delivered outside the traditional spring flush period."
Eligible entries were automatically assessed at the point of slaughter from members which supply a minimum of 250 crossbred or Merino lambs to the co-operative each financial year.
Entries received a score out of 100 with 80pc of the points assigned to the percentage of defect-free carcases in the prime 18.1 to 28 kilogram carcase weight (CWT), fat score 2-3 range.
The remaining 20pc of the points are for timing and volume of shipments, with more points awarded to larger consignments delivered outside the traditional spring flush.
There were five categories in the awards for this year's competition, three crossbred sections and two Merino sections.
The crossbred classers were for small (250-999), medium (1000-2199) and large (2200 plus) lines of lambs, while the Merino categories were small (250-749) and large lines (750 plus) only.
This year the winners of each category walked away with Zoetis product, a cash prize and a WAMMCO meat esky, second placed received a cash prize and a meat esky and third placegetters received a meat esky.
Mr Davidson said this year there were 618,574 lambs assessed for the awards from 507 growers from across the State.
"This was broken down into 552,393 crossbred lambs and 66,181 Merino lambs," he said.
"Of all the lambs assessed for the 2018/19 awards 76.2pc hit the sweet spot for WAMMCO when it came to carcase weight, fat score and defect free carcases."
The overall winners of the Judy Cameron Memorial Award for Producer of the Year, after finishing on the top of the large crossbred supplier section, were Phillip, Myles and Emily O'Meehan, Caralinga Farms, Borden.
The O'Meehans took first place in the large crossbred lamb supplier section with 2624 White Suffolk-Merino lambs averaging 22.93kg that gained 85.79 points, after only starting to breed their own prime lambs four years ago.
Myles O'Meehan said they were extremely surprised to win given last year's lambs were only the third drop of lambs they had ever bred and the tough season which was around at lambing.
"Last year wasn't an easy year to get lambs on the ground and up and growing in our area due to the tough start to the season and a very dry autumn, with the wind events and lack of rain," Mr O'Meehan said.
"We had to do plenty of supplementary feeding and I have to thank dad (Phillip) for keeping the feed up to the ewes during seeding when we were having a tough start to the season.
"But in the end we had a good finish to the season in spring which helped boost the lambs along.
"Also dad deserves most of the recognition for finding the right ewes to breed a good prime lamb when we established our breeding flock."
Prior to breeding their own prime lambs the family purchased in lambs in October and ran them on stubbles before selling them from January through to April.
Myles O'Meehan said they decided to breed their own lambs after purchasing a new property a few years ago, which gave them increased grazing land to utilise.
"We purchased in all our ewes and now buy in 1.5-year-old Merino ewes as replacements each year with the help of Richard Polish (Elders) and Mike Moore (Landmark)," Mr O'Meehan said.
"The ewes have to be big framed ewes to suit prime lamb production."
When it comes to sourcing their White Suffolk sires the family purchases these from the Hyde family's Kohat stud, Ongerup.
Mr O'Meehan said when they were deciding to breed their own lambs they looked around at a number of studs but settled on Kohat because they had heard the stud was breeding good rams.
"They breed really good rams and their Australian Sheep Breeding Values are improving every year," he said.
The O'Meehans this year will mate 2500 ewes and Mr O'Meehan said due to the past couple of dry years they were still figuring out what numbers they could run but were hoping to eventually get to 3000 breeders.
There are two lambings on the property which allows them to turn lambs off at regular intervals throughout the year.
The operation's 5.5yo ewes start lambing in March over a six-week period and these lambs are then weaned in the first week of June, when the ewes are shorn.
The ewes are sold in July while the lambs are sold in August at about 23-24kg CWT.
The rest of the operation's ewes lamb from the beginning of July for six weeks and the O'Meehans aim to wean these lambs in the first week of October on vetch and lucerne pastures.
The lambs are then turned on to their stubbles when they become available and are shorn in December to speed up weight gains.
When the stubbles run out the lambs are fed a lupin and seconds barley ration in lick feeders and if the O'Meehans get a summer rain the lambs are turned on to lucerne pastures.
Mr O'Meehan said when the lambs go on to the stubbles they are weighed and split into heavy, medium and light groups.
"We are always weighing them and are aiming for a 24kg CWT and don't sell anything that is going to weigh out at less than 22kg CWT," he said.
"We aim to sell our first draft at the end of December and turn off most of our lambs from January to March with the last load going in April."
Last year the O'Meehans sold 1200 lambs in February.
When it comes to selling their lambs they deal direct with WAMMCO to organise bookings and they also have their own truck which allows them to deliver 400 lambs a load.
The 2624 lambs the O'Meehans delivered to WAMMCO last year averaged $150.
Finishing second to the O'Meehans in the large crossbred category was Sergio, Mary, Michael and Alison Lucchesi, SD & MT Lucchesi, Kulin.
They delivered 2450 lambs averaging 21.42kg that gained 85.37 points.
The Kulin operation mates 3000 Merino ewes annually to Poll Dorset and White Suffolk sires from the Narembeen-based Cheetara stud.
Michael Lucchesi said they purchase in all their ewes and they have to be large-framed roomy ewes.
"We lamb in March/April and wean our lambs in June/July depending on the season," Mr Lucchesi said.
"If it is a good season they stay on the ewes a little longer and we try to sell them as suckers if they are in the right condition.
"Last year we weaned our lambs onto some good pastures and then finished them in a feedlot on a lupin/barley ration.
"We put them in the feedlot at 38kg plus liveweight and turn them out at 43kg liveweight.
"Last year we sold our first few lines at the end of August/early September."
Third in the large crossbred supplier section was the Squiers family, CJ Squiers & Sons, Shirlee Downs and Dogadilling Poll Dorset, Prime SAMM and White Suffolk studs, Quairading, with 2242 lambs averaging 23.43kg that totalled 84.69 points.
Last year's overall winners Tom and Donna Lynch, PD Lynch & Co, Hyden, this year won the medium crossbred supplier category.
The Lynch family supplied 1461 lambs to WAMMCO and finished on 89.59 points.
This year the family will mate 1500 Merino ewes to Prime SAMM rams and 1500 first-cross Prime SAMM-Merino ewes to Poll Dorsets.
They source their Poll Dorset rams along with some Prime SAMM rams from KD Genetics, Cunderdin and they also buy Prime SAMM rams from the Tiara/Uralla stud, Lake Grace.
Mr Lynch said they lamb from mid-July to mid-August and then shear and wean lambs in December/January.
"At weaning any lambs more than 42kg liveweight go straight into our finishing feedlot and the rest go onto the stubbles and come into the feedlot from the end of February," Mr Lynch said.
"Our aim is to sell all the lambs out of the feedlot at 50kg liveweight, basically as we draft a line out of the feedlot, more come in."
Last year the Lynches sold their first draft of lambs out of the feedlot in March and their prices ranged from $150 average for their first line through to $190 for their last line in June/July.
In the feedlot the Lynches use Milne Feeds EasyOne pellets so they can save grain for their ewes, while Westcoast Wool & Livestock representative Lincon Gangell organises the Lynches' bookings at WAMMCO and helps with weighing lambs.
After finishing third in the medium crossbred supplier category in 2017/18 Darrell, Diane, Peter and Rhiannon, Hudson, Yleena Farm, Dowerin, moved up to second spot for this year.
In 2018/19 the Hudsons delivered 1009 lambs, which scored 84.61 points.
Darrell Hudson said they run a flock of 1300 first and second-cross Prime SAMM ewes and they lamb from the last week in June for five to six weeks to fit in with seeding.
"We have been running Prime SAMMs for more than 10 years and have sourced our rams from the Margam Farm stud for a similar period of time but in the past couple of years we have introduced some Charollais rams from Margam Farm and also Poll Merino rams in from the Ejanding stud," Mr Hudson said.
"They are using ASBVs at Ejanding so we can pick the good dual-purpose rams with superior carcase traits for prime lamb production."
The Hudsons generally aim to wean their lambs in early October onto lick feeders and start selling them in late December.
Their early lambs are sold in the wool and anything not sold by March is shorn.
Mr Hudson said generally they try to sell a line off every month from late December and the last line goes in May.
"Last year was an easy year to get lambs up, we averaged 23-24kg CWT and $150 a head," Mr Hudson said.
"We had a lot of good Cadiz pastures so the lambs stayed in these paddocks and were supplemented with an oat and barley mix in lick feeders and we got our first draft off in late December."
Third in the medium crossbred supplier category was the Alexander family, JD & TC Alexander, Beverley, who beat the Hudsons to second spot last year.
The Alexanders supplied 1237 lambs which finished on 84.08 points.
In the small crossbred supplier section Brian and Anne Alymore, BD & AV Aylmore, Tambellup, finished on top with a score of 84.99 for 971 wether lambs supplied.
The Alymores, who were some of the first producers to run Dohnes commercially, run a 2700 ewe flock based on Koobelup Dohne bloodlines but in recent years they have introduced some Merino bloodlines from various Great Southern studs into their flock.
Mr Alymore said much of the credit for the lambs they produce went to their farm manager Colin Kingston.
"We aren't around a lot of the time so much of the work is left to Colin and he is great when it comes to management, animal husbandry and presentation of the flock," Mr Aylmore said.
The Alymores' flock lambs in June and July and the lambs are weaned at the end of September and shorn in October before the grass seeds come.
The operation's wether lambs go on to lupin stubbles when they become available and when the stubbles are finished they go back on to pastures and are supplemented with lupins.
Mr Alymore said they start to sell off their lambs when they hit 46kg liveweight and the first line is normally sold in January.
"We then weigh them every four to six weeks and take off anything that makes that weight and sell them direct to WAMMCO.
"We deal direct with WAMMCO for our booking and find them extremely easy to work."
Second place in this category was SR & JE Noble, Kulin, which supplied 953 lambs that accrued 83.64 points, while in third place on 82.15 points was LR Wehr, Esperance, which delivered 642 lambs.
Like the crossbred categories this year there wasn't much separating the placings in the two Merino categories.
The number one position in the large Merino supplier section was secured by Nathan and Wendy Brown, MD & FC Brown, Boonoke West Merino and Poll Merino stud, Jerramungup.
The Browns supplied 1274 Merino wethers lambs to WAMMCO in 2018/19 and they finished on 88.98 points to take first place.
The Browns, who have recently completed a feedlot, run 7500 Merino ewes commercially alongside 1000 stud ewes.
Mr Brown said their aim is to breed a good productive Merino with good size and a quality medium wool.
In recent years the stud has introduced some new bloodlines from Poll Boonoke, Mianelup (Merino) and Nepowie.
In the commercial operation 4000 ewes are joined to Merinos and 3500 ewes are mated to Coolalee and White Suffolk rams.
Mr Brown said they experienced a tough lambing in 2018, so to win the award was a good reward for the effort they put in.
"We fed a lot of grain out during lambing but we managed to get lambs on the ground in quite good condition and without too many issues plus wean a reasonable number of lambs."
The operation's Merino lambs are dropped in July/August and weaned in mid-October onto clover/rye grass pastures.
The lambs are shorn in December and turned onto stubbles.
Mr Brown said normally with their wethers they aim to shear them in December and again in June before finishing them in the feedlot as a bigger lamb but last year due to the season it dictated they had to get rid of them earlier.
"Last year we were aiming to keep them a bit longer and get more wool off them as our ewe numbers were down but the season just didn't allow," Mr Brown said
"So instead of carrying them through we reshore them in February and introduced them into the feedlot," Mr Brown said.
"When the stubble was finished and before they went into the feedlot we introduced some grain to them via lick feeders.
"When they went into the feedlot we wanted them weighing more than 36kg and then once they hit 47kg plus they were sold in lines of 400 to 500 head.
"We sold our first line in mid-March and our last line went in May.
"We were reweighing every couple of weeks and were introducing new lambs to the feedlot once a draft went out."
In the feedlot the lambs were fed a lupin/barley ration and Rabar Concentrated Mineral pellets, which is a buffer pellet to stop acidosis.
Mr Brown said last year was the first time they had sold large numbers of Merino wether lambs to WAMMCO.
"I got a bit of a nervous feeling about the live export industry and decided I didn't want all my eggs in one basket when it came to our Merino wethers," Mr Brown said.
"I knew we would have to finish them properly if we wanted to sell them as lambs so we did some research into different feedlots and established our own.
"We have set it up around two Bretton Auto Feeders and now we have the capacity to feed 2000 sheep at a time and this year our aim is to put 2500 Merino and crossbred lambs through it.
"Based on the positive results we achieved last year through the feedlot we will look at doing the same with our Merino wethers this year but the only difference will be at weaning we have introduced a little bit of feed to speed up the process.
"They really went into the feedlot last year a bit lighter than what we wanted and it took a bit longer to get them up."
Mr Brown believes the Merino lamb is a good, valuable package.
Last year the Merino wethers lambs they sold to WAMMCO averaged 22kg CWT and returned $166 a head, plus they cut 5kg of wool from the two shearings to give a wool income of about $60 a head.
Second in the large Merino supplier category were Trevor, Carol and Wade Brown, TM & CM Brown, Jerramungup, who finished on 87.27 points.
The Browns last year supplied 1846 Merino lambs which were nearly 95pc wethers to WAMMCO.
The family runs a 4000-head Merino ewe flock based on Boonoke West Merino bloodlines of which 3000 are joined to Merino rams, while the remaining 1000 are joined to Coolalee rams.
The operation lambs in June/July and then the lambs are weaned in early October onto standing vetch which has been knocked down.
Then in late December the Browns put self-feeders into these paddocks and start feeding pellets.
Trevor Brown said once they finished harvest they start to take off the heaviest lambs in January and prepare them for sale.
"When we take the heaviest lambs off we shear them and they are finished for three weeks on feeders adlib in a smaller area and when we sell some we introduce some more," he said.
"When we sell them we are wanting to make sure they are dressing above 18kg.
"Last year we sold our first line at the end of February and the last line went in June."
Broomehill operation PJD & ML Holmes finished third in the larger Merino supplier category on 86.89 points after supplying 3290 lambs to WAMMCO in 2018/19.
The final category - small Merino supplier - was won by Trevor Smith, TA Smith, Bremer Bay, who finished on 84.96 points after delivering 421 Merino lambs to WAMMCO.
Mr Smith said he had been selling his Merino wether lambs through WAMMCO over the hooks for many years.
"I used to carry them through but I could see more value and dollars in selling my wethers this way, as you are getting paid for exactly what's there," Mr Smith said.
The 421 lambs sold to WAMMCO by Mr Smith in the 2018/19 season were all delivered in one line on June 26 and averaged 22.46kg CWT and returned $174.17 head plus $2 a head for skins.
Mr Smith, who has only Merinos on his property, annually mates 2000 ewes for a June/July lambing.
The lambs are usually shorn and weaned in October on to pastures then they go onto stubbles when available.
Once the stubbles are finished the lambs are supplementary fed pellets adlib and Mr Smith aims to sell them over a couple of lines from June to August.
Mr Smith said before he sells his lambs to WAMMCO they are shorn again, so he can take advantage of their wool value.
Second place in this category went to SS & JE Angwin, Wagin, which supplied 456 lambs that accrued 83.37 points, while in third place on 82.68 points was I & R Cousins, Ballidu, which delivered 458 lambs.