It’s here in the NSW Riverina that Bob and Jo Crawford are achieving four lambings in three years based on a strict 273-day production cycle.
“I have about three days spare in the system but the interesting thing has been that the more we’ve pushed the production of the Merino ewe the more she has responded,” Mr Crawford said.
Based on joining pure Merino ewes every nine months without fail, the production system has allowed the Crawfords to get the most out of their sheep operation and grow the business despite drought and highly variable commodity prices.
The family lambs down about 9500 ewes every nine months on their home property Windouran at Moulamein.
It’s a system they’ve had in place for about 10 years and one that’s rewarded the extra management involved with a 30 per cent increase in net turnover.
Co-ordinating shearing and weaning is crucial to the production cycle as handling the ewes just this once in the cycle keeps labour as efficient as possible.
Merino ewes are given 42 days to recover after weaning and being fresh off shears and gaining weight helps stimulate them to cycle once again according to Mr Crawford.
He said the entire system was based on the ability of the Merino ewe to “bounce” after weaning.
“The ewes are still milking at weaning and are therefore consuming like mad and given that energy is not being taken from her as milk, she stores it and is ready to go again six weeks later.”
The Windouran-blood rams are brought in at this point and given five weeks to do their job but Mr Crawford said given lamb weights, the vast majority of ewes join quickly in the first cycle.
“You have to get the rams out on the programmed day – that is as equally as important as weaning,” he said.
Lambs are expected to be up to 12 kilograms at eight weeks old.
The wether portion is generally sold to either restockers or feedlotters at no more than six months of age and the ewe portion is kept to be joined at 13 months of age to lamb at 18 months, with a lambing rate of roughly 55 to 60 per cent.
With country now at Corowa, NSW, and plenty of restockers wanting sheep further south, the wether portion can always find a home.
Ewes have reliably bounced back very well, consistently delivering 90pc lambs but last year the flock had 110pc lambs.
Marking occurs just after the end of the lambing season and lambs are then given a further 30 days on their mothers until shearing and weaning begins.
That process takes two weeks all up. Having started on the dry ewes and early lambing mobs, lambs get as long as possible on their mothers with the youngest lambs being about seven or eight weeks old but the majority much closer to 12 weeks.
Dry ewes are identified at shearing time and generally don’t last long on the place.
Sticking to the plan and the routine is not always easy but Mr Crawford said it had to be done to make it work.
Having pastures that can respond to rainfall at any time of the year is crucial and the role native species play in that is not lost on Mr Crawford.
“I might have ewes set stocked at say one ewe to five acres and when I push her back out after shearing she is at that same rate so she’s not hurting the country.”
Given shearing takes place every nine months regardless of time of year, wool length is constantly 84 to 95 millimetres - about 10mm a month, which is sufficient as a non-discount length and staple strength is always sound.
If any breaks occur, they do so towards the very end of the staple, minimising any discount for strength and not having to crutch thanks to mulesing certainly helps minimise handling whilst improving gross margins.
“The whole system certainly keeps you on your toes but I have been doing it for many years now and across different environments,” Mr Crawford said. “I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone but it certainly works well for me and the team here.”