Quality genetics combined with careful pasture management has enabled Celia Scott, Ardmeen Farms, Poolaijelo, to produce an ideal prime lamb for the supermarket trade.
During the past four years, Ms Scott has increased lamb carcase weights at sale time by five kilograms while at the same time lifting stocking rates to 12 Dry Sheep Equivalents per hectare.
"Four years ago we were averaging 19.1kg dressed weight for lambs turned off the place by five months of age and a reasonable amount of those were unfinished stock we had to sell to backgrounders," she said.
"Now we are turning off lambs at an average carcase weight of 24.4kg and last year 100 per cent of the lambs went straight over the hooks.
"We have worked really hard to achieve a more consistent and even lamb turn-off and although there is still plenty of room for improvement, the results are pleasing."
After a successful agribusiness career Ms Scott returned to the family farm in 2009 and with assistance from her partner, Peter, began leasing the 1000-hectare property from her parents David and Sally about three years ago.
The pair currently run a self-replacing flock of 3500 maternal composite ewes, along with 320 Angus breeders and 53ha of farm forestry.
After experimenting with several different composite breeds, Ms Scott purchased a line of ewe lambs from the Dorahy family's Cloven Hills stud, Nareen, which is a composite flock comprising 50pc Coopworth, 10pc East Friesian and 40pc White Suffolk, Poll Dorset and Texel.
Ms Scott uses a combination of visual assessment and Lambplan performance measurements to select rams from Cloven Hills, with a focus on early growth, fertility, adult sheep size and carcase quality.
"Our first criteria with ram selection is the adult ewe size index value, we aim for more than 12 but less than 14 as we don't want the ewes to get too large, 70-75kg is ideal," she said.
"Then we look at traits such as number of lambs weaned, scrotal circumference, birthweights lower than 0.6 and a post-weaning faecal egg count of less than three.
"We are also starting to focus on carcase quality traits such as intramuscular fat and eye muscle area which directly correlate to lamb survival.
"This will also positively affect the eating quality and yield which we believe is going to become a greater focus for processors in the near future."
With an increased incidence of late autumn breaks, Ms Scott decided to push the breeding program back a month with joining now starting in mid-January for a lambing from mid-June onwards.
A split joining was also introduced with the rams in for 17 days, out for 10 days, in for another 17 days, out for 20 days and then, along with the ewe lambs, back in for a final 17 days.
"The staggered lambing has allowed us to put the ewes that are lambing in that two week period where they need to be in terms of shelter and feed and we can then re-use those paddocks," Ms Scott said.
"This year is the first year we have done it and it has worked well, it does require more work during joining, but it is worth it for the ability to precision feed ewes at lambing."
Other management factors which Ms Scott believes has contributed to improved conception rates includes the use of teasers and careful monitoring of ewes to ensure they are in condition score three at mating. Supplementation with beans or lupins is also used to give the rams a boost pre-joining.
With a focus on flock fertility, ewes are pregnancy scanned to identify multiples and separated so the ewes carrying twins and triplets can be given preferential treatment. They will lamb in the most sheltered, smallest paddocks in mob sizes of about 60 ewes.
Adult ewe lambing percentages from joining to marking currently average 135pc per ewe joined.
"I think smaller paddock sizes and better grazing management have allowed us to improve our lambing percentages significantly," Ms Scott said.
"When my grandparents took over the property there were four huge paddocks, now we have 51 paddocks averaging about 16ha and when you take out the non lambing paddocks it drops to 11ha which means we work on six twin-bearing ewes/ha.
"But there is definitely room for improvement and I think that can be achieved through better data management and recording of individual ewe performance."
Single-bearing ewes are rotationally grazed through 5ha paddocks in mobs of up to 500 head to improve pasture utilisation and better manage ewe liveweight.
The majority of the lambs are sold as suckers, but if the season looks like cutting out earlier, the lambs will be weaned at 10-12 weeks of age.
They are rotationally grazed in mobs of about 600 head on the best quality pasture feed available. Currently the lambs average 330 grams/day weight gain but Ms Scott has a target of 440g/day.
The terminal lamb portion is sold at five months of age over the hooks predominantly to Safeway and Coles.
Once all the ewe lamb replacements are weaned, they are run in a single mob and grown out to be joined the following March for an August lambing.
"Although we have improved ewe lamb conception rates, it can still be challenging, we are currently sitting at 65pc and are aiming to increase this to 85pc scanned in lamb during the next two years."
According to Ms Scott, a key production goal for the next five years is to increase the kilograms of lamb produced per hectare by 20pc.
She said this can be achieved through increased ewe lamb conception rates and lamb survival as well as the implementation of an extensive pasture renovation program.
"I would prefer to be turning off more kg/ha, rather than focusing on just more weight in our lambs.
"We have increased carcase weights and have a more uniform animal, so now we can start working on improving our weaning rates and lamb survival.
"Better management of feed-on-offer, the use of containment feeding in late summer and autumn, shifting our joining date and closer monitoring of ewe performance will all contribute."