CHAROLLAIS sheep have been Kevin Feakins' passion for decades, and now Australian producers can reap the rewards of his careful selection over the past 13 years.
Mr Feakins and his wife Gina own Camlea Charollais stud in Western Victoria, which was established in northern NSW in 2007, before the operation was moved.
The Feakins had used Charollais rams since the 1970s in the United Kingdom, and finding Charollais rams to join to their first-cross ewes was the first priority when they emigrated from the UK in early 2007.
Charollais sheep are considered the ideal terminal breed in the UK, producing heavy, early maturing lambs with good muscle and minimal fat.
It's a prolific, easy lambing breed with both ewes and rams being highly fertile.
Mature ewes can achieve high pregnancy rates of up to 220 per cent, and rams reach maturity at seven months of age and will continue to work for six or seven seasons.
"Although they're widely used in the UK as terminal sires, producing high quality prime lambs, nobody in Australia seemed to know of them," Mr Feakins said.
"Through a veterinary friend in the UK, we were able to track down an Australian vet, who had imported embryos into Australia, after seeing them in the UK in 2001."
Mr Feakins was able to purchase rams and embryos, increasing numbers through further embryo transfer work, building the flock, since 2007 to 500 ewes today.
The family supplies about 150 rams a year to stud and commercial clients in most states of Australia, along with a small number of ewe lambs.
Charollais sheep can be used over any other breed as a terminal sire, and will add to the productivity through increased numbers, and profitability through the heavier lambs that can be turned off quickly.
"Our flock has been kept pure since its inception," Mr Feakins said.
"We do not believe it is necessary to breed from or infuse any other breed into the Charollais sheep as they are already the perfect terminal sire.
"We regularly achieve scanning rates above 180pc, with our ewes lambing in July and August.
The ability to produce large numbers of multiple births, coupled with excellent mothering abilities, allows flock numbers to rebuild quickly.
"Charollais cross ewes, make first class mothers, producing excellent first class lambs," Mr Feakins said.
Being able to lamb easily and have the progeny turned off early is the biggest benefit for lamb producers.
"The growth rates for Charollais-cross lambs are excellent," Mr Feakins said.
"Their length, wide loin and good hindquarter conformation means heavy, well-fleshed lambs, and single lambs can achieve weights of 40 kilograms in just eight weeks.
"We achieve dressing percentages above 50pc, and in one consignment sent to Dubbo, 56pc.
"All the processors that have received our Charollais-cross lambs have given positive feedback on how impressed they were with the carcases.
"Charollais sheep carry the myostatin gene, which is the double muscle gene, and one abattoir manager actually called us asking us about the breed of these sheep and asserting they were the best run of lambs he had seen coming through his facility."
Last year the Feakins moved the Camlea stud from Glen Innes, in Northern NSW, to a property near Warrnambool in Victoria.
The shift to a more reliable rainfall region has allowed the couple to continue breeding with 500 ewes on a smaller property, while introducing the breed to more producers.
Mr Feakins has continued to supply existing customers in NSW with genetics, holding an annual northern sale each February, along with the southern sale in October.
At the first Victorian sale, held last October, 47 rams sold to a top of $2300 and an average of $875.
The sale attacted farmers who had never heard about Charollais sheep before, but decided to join some rams to their ewes.
"Each year, we carefully select fresh rams to put over the pure ewes, with the aim of continuously improving the abilities of our rams being sold to fat lamb producers," Mr Feakins said.