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19-Aug-2017 8:00pm

DOWERIN farmer Darrel Hudson’s strategy to pull back on his 2017 cropping program in favour of an increased focus on breeding Prime SAMM and Dorper prime lambs, changed gears quickly when it didn’t rain on his farms in April, May or June.

“We scratched in a cover crop of oats on the unseeded area and pulled out the tractors in early June, with only about three quarters of the reduced program complete,” Darrel said.

“We had already decided to increase sheep numbers and to reduce the cropping ratio to about 50 per cent because of low grain prices and increasing risk.

“The hard decision was to send 238 of our Prime SAMM and Dorper ewe lambs to WAMMCO – in case there was no further rain.”

A bonus, apart from averaging $155.91 for the lambs, was Darrel won WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for July 2017.

The draft of 238 ewe lambs averaged 24.83 kilograms with 91.68pc registered in WAMMCO’s premium grade.

The decision last year for Darrel and his wife Diane to increase their reliance on sheep has confirmed their readiness to:

Use their own grain and to buy in pellets this season to feed pregnant ewes and lambs as necessary;

Concentrate on high fertility with nearly 70pc of their 1600 Prime SAMM ewe flock producing twins and high single lambing percentages;

Invest in low-cost, highly effective labour saving technology;

Work with neighbours’ casuals, contractors and WAMMCO to maximise their lamb operation.

The Hudson properties, sandplain-based Yleena and Mandalee with its heavier country closer to Dowerin, jointly comprise nearly 2400 hectares accumulated by Darrel and Diane and Darrel’s father Peter.

The properties received 200 millimetres of summer rain between January and March and gave false hope of another bumper season.

But April, May and June yielded only 15mm in about six light rainfall events.

Pregnant ewes mated in February for a July lamb drop were already on grain and pellets and remained on feed with their lambs.

Those scanned for twins got special attention, producing about 150pc lambs, while all dry-scanned ewes were sent to WAMMCO with some ewes returning about $130 per head weight no grade.

“Our decision to let the ewe lambs go was based on the high prevailing price on offer from WAMMCO and our confidence that a high proportion of the lambs would hit WAMMCO’s premium grade,” Darrel said.

“With high fertility assured in the breeding flock and confidence that we can achieve WAMMCO’s premium grades and stable prices for our lambs over the next few years, we should be able to resume building the ewe flock quickly in 2018.”

The family switched to using Prime SAMMs from Steve Slater’s Margam stud at Gingin 10 years ago, upgrading from a Merino flock.

About 50pc of the Prime SAMM ewes are mated to Dorpers to produce earlier maturing lambs that qualify for WAMMCO premiums and pre-empt later Prime SAMM lambs which put on less fat.

Darrel is not deterred by the cost of feeding his ewes and lambs.

He also runs a lamb feedlot where truckloads of lighter 44kg lambs are fed on pellets and grain for a maximum of three weeks before despatch to Katanning at about 50kg liveweight.

“Do it properly and WAMMCO will pay you properly,” he said.

“We have found that Mackies pellets from New Norcia probably cost less than lupins yet can be tailored to specific diets.

“With the ruling low prices for grain you can also produce a lot of prime lambs for much less than the value of a tonne of grain.

“With twins or more the sums get even better.”

Both Dowerin properties have enjoyed heavy July-August rains and while the pastures are under late recovery, they will be lighter than normal.

Annual seeding of clover and serradella is also boosting pasture productivity.

Darrel works with neighbours Scott Flavel and Lindsay Hagboom to make up lamb loads for Katanning.

He and fellow Dorper producer Paul Millstead, are also assisting Dowerin Gourmet butcher Brent Walsh to make sure he gets first hand supplies of high quality lambs that normally only go to overseas consumers.

Darrel believes WAMMCO has assisted WA lamb producers to advance their breeding and husbandry expertise and also ensures valuable export markets and critical underwriting for the industry.

“They may not always pay the highest prices, but they are right up there keeping the lamb business honest,” he said.

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