Despite closing its Dunluce Lamb branded paddock to plate product, the Weir family sees their lamb enterprise as a big part of the business.
Debbie and Alan Weir, who run the operation with sons Ben and Evan, decided to close down the business they operated for more than six years in the wake of high lamb prices available over the hooks and in the saleyards.
“We crunched the numbers on the Dunluce Lamb side and found that the returns were not there,”Mrs Weir said.
The closure and the lessons learnt dealing direct with consumers will help the Weirs ramp up production and quality of the mixed composite sheep flock.
Alan Weir said while lamb prices were good, there were some challenges ahead for the industry.
The close relationship they had with their customers showed them that people didn’t understand how lamb was produced.
“People at markets would ask if the meat was hormone free,” he said.
“Supermarkets selling lamb as hormone free was giving the impression that some sheep had been hormone treated, which is not the case.”
He said it was hard to deal with perceptions that farmers mistreat their animals.
“I worry how society sees the farmer. I just tell people I vaccinate, drench and treat my stock as needed; I look after my sheep,” he said.
“I worry that lamb isn’t part of a lot of young people’s diets, particularly young girls.”
Mr Weir said they had been using electronic identification on their flock for a number of years.
It allowed them to track their breeding program that involved multiple breeds including East Friesian, Border Leicester, Merino, Dorper, White Suffolk and Dorset.
Booroola genetics have also been introduced to lift fertility, while a Highlander ram was also being used this year.
They are aiming for four lambings every three years, to achieve an average 175 per cent lambing rate every 12 months.
This year’s March/April lambs were sold as suckers around August/September.
The May and later-drop went onto a canola paddock cut for hay and were fed with hay and a barley/lupin mix – depending on what grains were available.
The paddock to plate business did teach the Weirs a lot about their lambs.
“We need more carcase feedback from the abattoirs. We just don’t get that now,” Mr Weir said.
He doesn’t worry about breed or what sheep look like.
“I’m concerned about fertility of ewes and growth rates, taste and tenderness of the meat of the lambs,” he said.