Switching joining aids drought bounce back

Article published by The Land on 19 August 2020.

Moving to a new property means adapting and making management decisions.

Add in one of the region's worst ever droughts and it's fair to say Charlie Blomfield and Eleanor Falkiner set themselves a massive challenge when purchasing the 850 hectare property Boridgeree at Canowindra 18 months ago.

But a bold move to bring their lambing dates forward six weeks and join their Merino ewes in confinement straight after weaning has the flock firing in 2020.

The property is home to 2300 breeding Merino ewes, mostly Haddon Rig blood, with a transition phase underway towards poll genetics due to their early growth and animal husbandry benefits.

Alongside this is a 4000 head lamb feedlot with anything from Merinos, crossbreds or second cross lambs traded through it.

Recently a mob of Merino ewes were spelled after weaning on wheat crop, a well earned reward for their performance in drought.

Having been fed and joined in confinement, the flock had a 138 per cent scanning percentage with a final weaning rate of 104 per cent, a result they were very happy with considering the drought.

The June drop lambs averaged 22.2 kilograms, with 70 per cent about 20 kilograms, topping at 41 kilograms. Additionally all ewes were in a body condition score of three or more after weaning, even those with twin lambs.

On moving to Boridgeree, lambing took place in July, which coincided with difficult winter weather conditions and lamb losses, so the decision was made to switch to a May lambing.

"After the drought winter of 2019 we decided we wanted to avoid that all together," Mr Blomfield said.

"We weaned last year's lambs and joined right on the heels of weaning in the worst drought for this area on record. The Haddon Rig blood ewes performed really well and the season improved just before lambing which was great timing."

The success of the management change means ewes will be classed in late August, shearing occurs in October, joining begins in December for five weeks making lambing in May before any major winter weather events.

"We are trying to make the lambing as tight as possible," he said.

"Producing quality lambs in May that grow quickly gets us into the market pretty early, or we can take them to heavier weights, if you can get your crop rotation right like this year.

"We are sowing improved pastures and planted a lot of lucerne chicory clover pasture which fires up in spring and are over-sowing our native pasture paddocks with legumes and clover.

"We grow dual purpose crops in winter for hay and grain and in spring the pasture starts to kick off so we need to balance the feed budget year round. A May lambing allows us to use those dual-purpose crops really well, and allows us to graze our lucerne river flats over the winter."

Recently a mob of Merino ewes were spelled after weaning on wheat crop, a well earned reward for their performance in drought.

 Recently a mob of Merino ewes were spelled after weaning on wheat crop, a well earned reward for their performance in drought.

This year some ewes will be joined in confinement to compare with the broader management group joining under normal paddock conditions to examine if the practice not only maximised fertility but also offers a valuable five week spell for paddocks in early summer.

They will also join their ewe lambs at 55 kilograms live weight, regardless of age, to produce more progeny over their lifetime. The first year, with micro-management and focused nutrition, wasn't usually the problem, it was resyncing them to the flock program for the second lambing that proved a challenge.

"Our business is about turning off good quality fat lambs and wool as a valuable by-product so the more lambs we produce over the lifetime of that ewe the more profitable the enterprise is going to be," Mr Blomfield said.

Moving from Warren, they were no strangers to drought and their first purchase was a feed cart with scales and wiring up the ute to use the machine from the vehicle.

The feedlot was also built immediately meaning they could mix and blend their own feed for confinement and allowed them to spell the property for eight months.

Mr Blomfield will share his story at the Haddon Rig open day on Thursday with tools and manuals to make profitable on-farm decisions available at www.agriculturalmc.com

 Mr Blomfield will share his story at the Haddon Rig open day on Thursday with tools and manuals to make profitable on-farm decisions available at www.agriculturalmc.com

They were focused on producing quality females, knowing it would be an issue coming out of drought, and learnt a big lesson in the capabilities of their flock with adequate nutrition.

"If the genetic potential is there it is up to the management to convert it into dollars," he said.

All of their lambs are weaned into the feedlot for education purposes and mobs are split either side of 20 kilograms with the smaller lambs given extra management and feed. During yard weaning, lambs are fed a cracked corn and barley ration for four days then turned onto pasture.

Lambs are weighed every two weeks with more specific analysis conducted of poll versus horned Merino performance, trade Merino versus crossbred and gains from various crops.

"Anything that is not performing well we take them out of those high cost, high performance feeding scenarios and put into something lower cost," he said.

Mr Blomfield will share his story at the Haddon Rig open day on Thursday with tools and manuals to make profitable on-farm decisions available at www.agriculturalmc.com

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