Matching genetics, pastures and markets at Quamby Dobie

Matching genetics, pastures and markets at Quamby Dobie


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The de Fegely family have made carefully scripted decisions for a successful change from Merinos to composites.

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Five years after changing from fine wool production to a sheepmeat production system, the de Fegely family is reaping the benefits.

Charlie and Elizabeth and son Richard have converted their property Quamby Dobie, near Ararat, to a red meat production hub marketing up to 7000 lambs annually.

Their focus is matching the right type of sheep with pasture growth, although the growing period is becoming increasingly unreliable.

Added to the seasonal uncertainty were problems with tender wool and poor lamb survival rates in the Merino flock.

Charlie de Fegely said that in the new system, animal weights and pasture growth, dictate whether lambs were turned off for slaughter or for the professional lamb finisher market.

The farm was best suited to breeding rather than finishing lambs.

"For the effort we put into pastures you would get it back with the extra weight in lambs or in increased lamb survival," he said.

"With the wool job, we would go from rags to riches when the season dried off and we had problems with tensile strength with a pasture system that wasn't suited to the Merino sheep."

Today, the de Fegelys expect the 6600-ewe flock to produce around 9000 lambs, 7000 of them sold annually.

"You can't finish that number on a pasture-based system and it's too expensive to set up a grain finishing system for that number," Mr de Fegely said.

He said the number of people finishing lambs was increasing across the country, either with a grain operations or irrigated pasture crops.

"They are into lamb finishing and that suits us down to the ground. We are really tuned in to how much feed we grow and how long the season lasts," he said.

Mr de Fegely said the system had to match the feed curve.

From August, they feed budget and watch the weather to monitor what was in the paddock and how much was needed to maintain the number of breeding ewes.

The aim was to retain ground cover right through summer.

"We wean at 12 weeks from the first lamb born after a five week lambing period," Mr de Fegely said.

"At that time, we'll make decisions about how long we will keep them based on how much feed is available. "

The aim is to wean twin lambs at 29 to 30 kilograms liveweight and singles at 32-34kg on average with the oldest being 12 weeks.

He said the singles were growing at around 450 grams a day and the twins at around 300g/day.

In 2018, half the lambs sold went for slaughter and half to finishers.

"You've got to be careful that taking them to slaughter weights could pinch feed from the ewes and you pay for that in the next year," Mr de Fegely said.

Early weaning and looking after the ewe were the key drivers behind a 15 per cent rise in scanning rate from 2018.

The current ewe flock was developed from the original Merino flock that was joined to Derrynock East Friesian/Poll Dorset composite rams.

Cashmore Park composites introduced in 2015 were used over twinning ewes and Derrynock Poll Dorset rams over all single bearing ewes (about 40pc of the ewes).

Richard de Fegely said all animals were fully measured and their breeding values used to identify missing traits.

That data was matched against the key drivers of lambing percentage, stocking rates and growth rates.

The de Fegeleys look to keep ewe weights at 70-75kg and aim for 180pc scanned and 160pc marked.

Currently, the two to six-year-old ewes scan at 170pc and mark 150pc.

Twin survival rates had risen from the Merino flock's 55-65pc rate, to 85-95pc survival with the composite flock.

The de Fegelys also moved lambing from June to mid-July to mid-August to fit the feed curve better.

"The challenge for us is to put the weight on the ewe post weaning," Mr de Fegely said.

"At least we are lambing with feed in the paddock."

All lambs were sold by the end of January through AuctionsPlus for stores, or direct to processors.

The target weight ranges were 36-40kg liveweight for stores and 44-50kg to processors but were subject to change with the market trends.

Richard de Fegely said sale mobs were offered as B-double loads or four-decks.

"The bigger the lines, the further away they will attract buyers," Richard de Fegely said.

Charlie de Fegely said paddocks were eight to 10 hectares and the average mob size for twins was 80 while triplets were 25 to 50.

The feed bill for ewes from January into mid-May was $12 to $14 a head.

"That was because we weaned early and got the weight on the ewe's back so didn't have to feed a high ration," Mr de Fegely said.

Ewes were fed 500g/day of grain leading up to mating to prevent weight loss.

"The secret at weaning is to balance how much feed is in the paddock left for your ewes so you aren't needing excessive supplementary feeding to get ewes to target weights," he said.

In the past five years, the annual sowing program comprised about 400 hectares, of which 30pc was cereals and the balance to annual ryegrasses and annual clovers.

About 70pc of the pastures were phalaris-based.

The remainder was a rotation of winter cereals, plus annual and short-term ryes for weaning lambs.

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