I’m happy cutting 4kg because the wool market is pretty good at the moment. I’m hoping in a few years to see growth in the fleece weight.
Swifts Creek grazier Tom King has already bought six tonnes of feed this winter and, unless there’s a significant break in the weather, is looking at a long and dry summer.
Mr King is gradually developing the farm at Swifts Creek, described as rough to undulating light country, with heavier carrying on some flatter ground.
He currently runs 30 Hereford cows and calves, 400 Merino ewes, 100 first-cross and 300 second-cross ewes on 393 hectares, with a further 162ha of lease country in the Victorian Alps.
Those livestock numbers are growing, slowly, as he focuses on improving genetics, breeding and pastures.
Heifers are retained to build the herd, while steers are usually sold as weaners at the Ensay cattle sale in March.
“Ensay is one of the best cattle markets in the country. I try to put the steers into that sale each year,” Mr King said.
“If I don’t have enough – last year we only had two steers – I’ll send them to Bairnsdale saleyards.”
To build his Merino flock, Mr King purchased 400 foundation ewes, Woodpark bloodline, along with Round Hill and Turner Partnership ewes; and has joined them to Round Hill and Pendarra rams.
“But predominantly Pendarra,” he said.
He currently cuts an average 4kg of fleece off the ewes, at 18 Micron, and is working towards a 5-6kg average.
“I’m happy cutting 4kg because the wool market is pretty good at the moment. I’m hoping in a few years to see growth in the fleece weight,” Mr King said.
First-cross ewes are bred from joining Merino ewes to Border Leicester rams. Second-cross lambs are the progeny from using Ashley Park Suffolk and White Suffolk rams and Ridgehaven Poll Dorset rams.
As the sheep flock grows, Mr King has reviewed his lambing procedure and will shift joining rates next year.
The cross-bred ewes yielded 118 per cent at marking time, with split lambing – Autumn and Spring; the Merino ewes are currently lambing.
“They’re producing a lot of twins this year,” he said.
“We’re changing the cycle for the future – the cross-breds will all by joined in November for an Autumn lambing and the Merino ewes will be joined in January for a Spring drop.”
Initially in partnership with his mother, Jenny Miles, for four years, about 12 months ago Mr King initiated a new partnership with his fiancé, Gemma Rendell, and her parents, Geoff and Tracey Rendell.
With shearing underway this week, Mr King is keeping an eye on the weather. Cold weather has not been alleviated, with five frosts on the ground in the past week.
“It’s currently raining and they forecast we could be getting rain through this week. If that happens, if we can snag 20mm out of this, the season can still change and we’d be ok going into Spring,” he said.
“We really needed August rain and good drops of it to kick on. At the moment we’re having a bad season, so we lightened off the flock in July. We’ve had no moisture in the ground since mid-May and we’ve had a long, cold winter with a lot of frosts on the ground.
“In a good season, we could probably handle another 300-440 ewes – but we haven’t got those conditions this year.”
He has already purchased six tonnes of lupins and maize from grain growers in Bairnsdale, as well as hay, to take the best of the livestock through the winter. He also sowed down five acres of lucerne and 12 acres of oats a month ago and eight acres of rape in April. The lucerne will be irrigated from a bore, once it gets going.
“The lucerne and the oats are just poking their heads up and the rape has germinated,” Mr King said.
“We’ll be cutting the oats for hay as well as grazing it, depending on how it does in the season. If we don’t get a season break, it’s going to be a long, dry summer.”
Fortunately, bore water will ensure the dam levels are kept up for livestock.