Multiplying the benefits of even lambs in the southern Grampians

Southdowns underpin productivity in Penshurst

Sheep
BREEDING SUCCESS: Mick McKinnon's seven-month-old composite ewe lambs that will be mated to Southdowns.

BREEDING SUCCESS: Mick McKinnon's seven-month-old composite ewe lambs that will be mated to Southdowns.

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Mick McKinnon says Southdown rams over composite ewes are ideal in his system.

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For Penshurst farmer Mick McKinnon, a successful and profitable sheepmeat enterprise is one where lamb lines are consistent and ewes produce multiple progeny.

With decades of experience in the agricultural industry, he knows the importance of optimising returns per hectare from his sheep operation.

He said this is underpinned by producing even lines of quality, high-yielding salable lambs that will achieve the highest possible average price - and not just shooting for the top price for the best of the drafts every year.

Ewe fertility is the other key profit-driver in his business, with a twin-bearing ewe delivering progeny worth twice - or triple - as much as a single bearer.

Each year, Mr McKinnon runs about 1000 composite ewes mated to Southdown sires and 150 head of cattle on his 240 hectare property in south west Victoria.

He has chosen Southdowns because - of all the terminal breeds - they produce the most even, tight-skinned and hardy progeny from a composite ewe.

"Having tight skins is the biggest advantage for me, because it means the lambs don't go woolly, fluffy or hairy and are more appealing to buyers," he said.

"The Southdown influence gives the lambs a very even body structure, fat coverage, shape and size.

"They are also early maturing, high yielding, hardy, low maintenance and able to handle the wet conditions that come with being raised in a 700 millimetre annual rainfall area."

EXPERIENCE PAYS: Penshurst farmer Mick McKinnon has been in the sheep industry for many years and focuses on maximising profits per hectare.

EXPERIENCE PAYS: Penshurst farmer Mick McKinnon has been in the sheep industry for many years and focuses on maximising profits per hectare.

Mr McKinnon has been running composite ewes for many years.

Joining to Southdown rams occurs in February for a July-drop lamb that is grown out on winter and spring pastures for sale from November to January.

Mr McKinnon has been a long-time client of Nedelle Southdowns stud, which he said was making good genetic progress in ewe fertility, ease of lambing, increased lamb growth and meat eating quality traits.

In 2020, a late summer rain of 75mm - and good falls through to spring - provided ideal pasture to set ewes up and his flock had a conception rate at scanning of about 155 per cent and a marking rate of 150pc.

Mr McKinnon said from 940 ewes mated this year, 600 of these - or about two thirds - were scanned as multiple bearers and separated into mobs for preferential feeding.

He said his top priced lamb sold last year was a single birth and worth $200. But the following week, he sold twin lambs - as part of a mob of 212 - that returned $172 each.

"This highlights the value of having a multiple-bearing ewe that will produce progeny worth more than $340 every year, and from only marginally more pasture," he said.

"It is why continuing to improve fertility in my flock is so important to me."

Mr McKinnon sells his lambs through the Hamilton saleyards and typically they are in the 25-30kg carcase weight range.

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