Border Leicester rams play an integral role in the Millard family's sheep enterprise at Byaduk which is focused on producing quality prime lambs for the local market.
Stephen Millard, his wife Maree Falkenberg and their daughters, Sarah, Katelyn, Rachael and Eliza, have been using Border Leicesters for nearly 30 years and continue to be pleased with the breed's maternal traits, fertility, temperament and productivity.
"We have trialled a range of different crosses, but to produce an easy-care ewe with good fertility and mothering ability, I don't think you can beat the Merino/Border Leicester-cross," Mr Millard said.
"And because their wool is under 28 micron, we've really benefited in the past few years.
"We've been receiving up to 1000 cents a kilogram for the first-cross wool which is where we were not too many years ago with Merinos."
The Millard family currently run 1200 self-replacing Merinos, 800 Merino ewes mated to Border Leicesters to produce the first-cross ewe replacements and 1800 Merino/Border Leicester-cross ewes joined to Poll Dorset terminal sires.
The sheep are run across several properties south of Hamilton, totalling about 800 hectares. The Merinos are all Moorundie Poll blood and average 19.5 micron.
"Having the three enterprises spreads our risk and has given us increased diversification and marketing flexibility," he said.
"We can sell what's finished or depending on the market and the season sell them as store lambs. I prefer to sell earlier rather than spending the money to feed and finish them."
Merino ewes are joined to high-performing Border Leicester rams from the Jackson family's stud at Moyston to produce quality first-cross ewes. Ram selection is focused on structure, growth and wool quality.
"I look for an animal that is well-balanced, well-sprung on the ribs and I like a finer micron wool as I think this keeps the lambs looking fresh and I always choose twin-born rams for fertility," he said.
"Nine times out of ten a ram will throw to what they look like so an even selection across my team of rams is also important to produce a consistent draft of lambs.
"Although I don't use Australian Sheep Breeding Values much, I will select a ram which is positive for fat as my Merinos are lean enough and I think this helps with lamb survival and doing-ability."
The Merinos mated to Border Leicester rams and the first-cross ewes are joined for eight weeks to lamb from the start of July onwards. The self-replacing Merino flock lambs in early August.
Ewes don't receive any special management during summer as Mr Millard said generally there is sufficient green feed in the pastures to ensure the ewes are in condition score three or more for joining.
"We don't do much supplementary feeding, normally we wouldn't start feeding until late February and are often finished in April.
"Normally we supplement hay and silage although this year I did feed out a high-energy ewe and lamb pellet due to the late break."
The ewes will lamb in the driest, most sheltered paddocks and depending on the paddock size, in mobs of 100-200 head for ease of management.
Although Mr Millard doesn't pregnancy scan, lambing rates of 130 per cent per ewe joined are consistently achieved for the first-cross ewes, while the Merino ewes joined to Border Leicesters average between 100-110pc and the self-replacing Merinos average 95pc.
The Millard family aim to sell most of the second-cross lambs as suckers in December through the Hamilton Regional Livestock Exchange, at a dressed weight of more than 18 kilograms.
"We like to work on a price rather than look at what the market is doing, we target an average of $140 per head with the tops up to $170/hd.
The first-cross wether lamb portion is also sold as suckers in early December, regardless of their weight.
"I generally get a mixture of weights in the first-cross wethers from store lambs through to heavy lambs but I think you are better off taking a few dollars less for them and letting someone else finish them off."
Any second-cross lambs not sold as suckers are weaned, shorn in December and placed on green feed, including summer crops, to be grown out and sold the following March/April.
The first-cross ewe lambs are kept as replacements and last year Mr Millard trialled joining them to Southdown rams for ease of lambing.
'We used to run the ewe lambs hard and let them grow out, but with the price of lamb we thought it was worth trying an earlier joining."