LENGTH weighs - and fertility pays.
That’s the guiding philosophy underpinning the Anton brothers' prime lamb enterprise run on the family’s property at Toongabbie.
Sheep have vanished from many neighbouring farms in this part of Gippsland, shipped off to make way for cattle and cropping.
But Robert and Tom Anton maintain it’s still good sheep country and have set their sights on building their first-cross ewe flock to about 2000 head in the next few years.
The Antons currently run about 1600 first-cross ewes – principally Border Leicester-Merino.
While they used to run some Merino ewes to breed up replacements for the past six years they’ve opted to buy in all their ewes and focus their attentions on the main game of lamb production.
Tight supplies have forced them to hunt further afield for replacements in recent years and pay more for them – with neither situation likely to ease as the depletion of the ewe flock starts to bite.
And while they prefer to buy them in as one and a half year olds, last year they were forced to buy 200 ewe lambs that were big enough to join in the hunt for numbers.
“One of our biggest challenges is going to be being able to source ewes of the quality we want,” said Tom Anton.
Last year they paid up to $156 for first-cross ewes at Kyneton.
They base their budget on what return they can get from their ewe in the first year - combined with its cull value, last year about $52.
“We want that first lamb to just about pay for that ewe - which while we’re making $100-$115 for a lamb stacks up.”
They join about 1400 ewes to Poll Dorset rams – long the terminal sire of choice on the property – with their maiden ewes joined to Southdowns.
They typically mark about 120-125pc lambs – this year achieving 150pc in their oldest mob of ewes, aged seven to nine years.
While they used to inject their ewes with the reproductive vaccine Ovastim, it was phased out three years ago due to the number of triplets they were getting.
Two of three still have twins which Robert Anton said they put down to “the natural fertility and the quality of ewes and rams we’re buying”.
In the past three years Poll Dorset rams have principally been sourced from Ian Kyle’s Ashley Park stud at Bairnsdale and the Sunderman family’s Pinora stud at Heyfield.
Robert Anton said they based their ram selections on length – firm in the belief that “length weighs” – and eye muscle depth, targeting figures in the high 30s to 40 millimetre range.
He said they also looked for fast maturing types that would help them turn off lambs quickly.
*Extract. Full report in special poll Dorset feature in this week's paper, September 4.
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