Tom Scholfield and Jayne Manning have given composite sheep a big tick for resilience, low maintenance and productivity.
Mr Scholfield runs the prime lamb enterprise, along with Merinos and some cropping (as part of pasture improvement) at Glenoe, at Tabor.
He started leasing the farm in early 2013, when he returned to the area after studying and working as a developer in Melbourne, and travelling overseas for a couple of years. His parents farm about 30km away at Woodhouse-Nareeb. The couple now lease more than 300 hectares, and recently bought their first block nearby. He said they had taken advantage of the recent high mutton prices and were now coming off their lowest stocking rate time of the year – with about 1000 scanned in-lamb (SIL) composite ewes and ewe lambs. They also have more than 1000 SIL Merino ewes and young stock.
“Once we have finished renovating pastures on our new block, we think we could run somewhere near 3000 ewes,” he said.
He said he pushed the stocking rate harder early on and ran a lot of dry stock for wool production, but as a result of challenging seasons and flat wool markets in 2014-15, he sold down Merino wethers and dry ewes.
“Since then I’ve focused on running more pregnant ewes which allows me to lamb down large numbers in the peak growing season in spring, and ease off back to the core flock in autumn/winter as the feed runs out.”
They built a three-yard containment area early last year, which can double as a feedlot to help them balance optimum stocking rate with pasture persistence.
Mr Scholfield said running composite sheep had also helped the operation’s flexibility.
“I’m getting feedback from abattoirs and through the saleyards that the composite lambs are just as acceptable as terminal breeds, but they give me the flexibility to ramp up production depending on the seasonal and market opportunities available.”
He said another key feature of the Cashmore Oaklea composites was their early maturity which allowed for joining of ewe lambs.
“I’m getting close to only retaining ewes if they rear a lamb as a lamb, and then selling any ewes that don’t join up or rear a lamb from there on.”
Mr Scholfield said this system required vigilance about ewe condition score.
They are also focused on breeding a resilient, low maintenance animal that has outstanding maternal traits, with fast, early growth before flattening out into a 65-75kg adult sheep, good parasite resistance and positive eye muscle and fat.
The composite ewes were all joined to composite rams this year, and are finishing their first four-week lambing now. The Toland and Connewarran blood Merinos and composite ewe lambs will drop in late August into September. At scanning in the past few years, they have achieved about 165 per cent lambs to mature composites joined, and 115pc in the composite ewe lambs.
“At marking I usually get over 90pc in scanned single mobs and between 160-170pc in multiple mobs, although the multiples were back to about 150pc last year as about a third of the farm was flooded during lambing.”
Southern Grampians Livestock manage their livestock sales, and Mr Scholfield said he liked selling sheep and lambs direct either over the hooks or on AuctionsPlus.
“I think developing a relationship with the customer and understanding the performance of my product is important, and I also believe there are efficiency and animal handling benefits.
“At the same time, the new selling facility at Hamilton is superb and I am more than happy to go there whenever it is more practical.”
Perennial phalaris and ryegrass pastures with sub clover dominate at Glenoe. They are moving away from set-stocking (except at lambing) and embracing a rotational grazing system based on mob sizes of around 1000 in the peak growing season, using the existing paddock structure. He makes hay and silage, and last year grew wheat for the first time to feed out.
“I’m trying to eliminate wastage around trail feeding grain and hay in the paddocks, and moving to using Advantage lick feeders and hay cradles for imprinting and growing out lambs and supplementing pregnant or lambing ewes.
“I prefer to use silage in the paddocks because there is less wastage and issues with spreading weeds, and then trail feed hay and grain in the containment areas when the paddock feed tails off in quality.”