A MOVE to alter the natural joining cycle of composite ewes has seen huge improvements with flock fertility and has increased the number of lambs turned off at Manooka, Mortlake.
The enterprise is managed for Australian Lamb Company (ALC) and opened its gates for a recent on-property field day conducted by Southern Prime Lamb Group.
Spurred on by two consecutively tough springs, the farm was struggling to hit the 150 per cent lambing target in a September lambing system.
This pushed the operation to move to a split joining, where 50pc of the flock is injected with a melatonin-releasing implant to induce the ewes' natural cycling by three-months.
Manooka's 5000-strong ewe flock, comprising composite and some first-cross breeding ewes, is joined to Poll Dorset and composite rams.
Ewe lambs from the composite joining are selected out of a drop of 1500 for self-replacement.
"Spring lambing was proving difficult for us to achieve maximum sucker turn off," farm manager Leigh Harry said.
"We were supplementary finishing lambs through summer and weren't getting enough off as suckers."
Ewes naturally come into peak reproductive performance as the days get shorter and nights longer during autumn; with the longer days of spring and summer coming at an expense of lower fertility and lambing rates.
Mr Harry said the implant releases melatonin – nature's day length messenger – tricking the ewe's reproductive system into thinking the days were shorter and triggering the natural sequence of hormonal events.
"We felt we needed to run composite ewes which better handle our wet winters, but they came with the problem of naturally joining in summer," he said.
"What we have done is push production by joining half our ewes (with the melatonin implant) on the first of January and the other half in their natural cycling season, in March.
"We find we get 140pc scanning in our natural season. We are achieving close to that in the early joining, but we are able to finish more off from the spring flush."
This season the operation is trailing the implant program on ewe lambs to gauge the effect on twins while reducing dystocia issues.
The operation conducts a split lambing in June-July and July-August with the aim of better utilising peak pasture growth.
"Two joinings have allowed us to effectively reduce the total number of rams and increase the ram percentage by using at least half the rams twice," Mr Harry said.
"With the same budget for ram purchases, we can choose better quality rams based on Australian Sheep Breeding Values, focusing particularly on weaning weight of 100 days and post weaning weight of 225 days."
Rams were also visually classed and selected for conformation, foot colour and skin tightness, he said.
The operation's aim is to turn off as many lambs as possible by the end of the growing season (before December), although with two recent springs cutting out early in recent years, Mr Harry said this had been difficult to achieve when lambing in August-September.
"We have been reviewing our lambing time and are considering an earlier lambing to catch more of our peak spring growth and to increase the percentage turned off as suckers," he said.
"This is an area we can improve our productivity."
The balance of lambs are shorn early January and put onto summer crops or finished in the feedlot.
Scanning is conducted to identify twins, singles and dries, with older dries being culled.
There are two main factors that contribute to the success of the lamb enterprise: the ability to consistently turn off lambs according to processors' specifications, as well as continuously reviewing productivity efficiencies.
High-quality nutrition at the operation's on-farm feedlot, productive pasture management and an integrated support system with its Camperdown sister property, all contribute to the success of the flock.
While targeting a high-yielding 22 to 24 kilogram carcase quality lamb for the ALC, the operation is also frugal with its approach to production.
"We lease the property and that is an extra cost that most farmers don't have, on top of our increased labour costs," Mr Harry said.
"We still have a long way to go with increasing lambing percentage, improving our turn-off objectives and fully utilising our huge spring flush."
The operation is a strong reflection of good communication between the producer and the processor, and results in delivering the ideal lamb product dictated by ALC.
"I think I have a better insight at both ends of the operation, from the farmers to the abattoir, understanding how they work and the importance of the connection," Mr Harry said.
"In the past there has been a 'farmer versus processors' adversarial mentality, but we all now realise the need to forge closer links, to improve efficiencies and deliver profitable outcomes for producer and processor.
"Processors are realising that they need to do more to improve the supply chain links. They need to educate the farmers with what they want, to overcome issues like grass seeds and skin quality that penalise the farmers and ultimately the processors."