PRIME lamb production is all in the joining process for Carboor breeders Harry and Nicola Bussell.
The Bussells run 1200 Dorper ewes on their 440-hectare property, with the aim of running 1500 ewes when they reach capacity.
Prime lambs are their primary business, and they have also had a stud flock for the past four years.
Mr Bussell said he bred good prime lambs by concentrating on his breeding stock.
"The wethers get sold off as soon as they are ready at the end of spring for the local abattoirs and butchers," he said.
"That is so that there is more feed for the ewe lambs to grow and get in-lamb."
Ewes are joined on December 1 to lamb on May 1 and Regulin implants are used to assist the naturally seasonal breeders to get in-lamb.
Ewe lambs are then joined for the first time the following breeding season, at six months of age.
The Bussells are increasing their ewe flock and this year have lambed 400 maiden ewes.
Mr Bussell said as Dorpers did not carry a fleece, they needed to have a lamb and joining ewe lambs helped establish the good breeding stock early.
"About 70 per cent of the lambs are big enough to join by December, with ewes needing to be about 45 kilograms," he said.
"By doing that we pick out the most fertile sheep and cull those who don't get in lamb the first time."
Fertility drives the Dorper breed, according to Mr Bussell, and it can be improved through tracking the sheep with better maternal traits.
Rams from their own Alpine Dorper stud are used over the commercial flock, with 50 to 70 rams ensuring the lambs are all dropped within four weeks.
"When you are trying to sell prime lambs by the end of the spring, the quicker they are on the ground, the older they are going to be at the point of sale," Mr Bussell said.
"You need the right amount of rams to achieve that joining quickly.
"We only have one per cent of ewes with lambing issues, with difficulty more often than not coming from animal health problems – if they get nurtured they will be right."
The Bussells sell their lambs direct to local abattoirs in the 18-20kg dressed weight range, dressed, with a fat score of between 2-3.
"The abattoirs love the Dorpers, so any time we have them to their specifications, it is never a problem to get them in straight away – they always take them within the week," Mr Bussell said.
"They yield a bit more than some other breeds do, and the shape of the carcase is very desirable for the processors as they are a very muscly sheep.
"They do have to fit their specifications though, with an $8 per lamb reduction if they are outside the weight range."
They also have a good relationship with butchers in their area, who take lambs in the heavier 22-24kg weight range, with a fat score of 3-4.
Mr Bussell said they had been getting good feedback from locals buying their meat.
"When we first started to supply the butcher 18 months ago, he said 80pc of their clients wanted to know where the lamb came from," he said.
"And the meat has a special quality, a slightly different flavour to other lambs, not as fatty and without the sheepy smell you can sometimes get when you cook lamb."
*Full story in this week's Stock & Land Prime Lamb feature