PENDARRA POINT OF VIEW.
Isn't it great to be finally getting a great season at a time when all looks promising for the sheep industry in general? You would have had to have been living under a rock for the past 12 months to not have witnessed the huge financial gains made from both sheep and lamb have been the savior of many primary producers right across Australia. The good news is this is not expected to change too much in the short to medium term.
There is no doubt that there is a momentum building that will arrest the decline in Australia's sheep population and although the official numbers are yet to indicate an increase, many farmers across all Australian states either have, or are intending to, increase sheep numbers. The main problem is the cost of breeding stock at present with mutton prices holding at record levels due to strong competition from restockers. There is no indication that this will alter in the short term which will restrain the influx of new lamb producers to the industry. Much will depend on the finish to the current season and the potential cropping returns from this harvest. There are plenty of factors all combining in Australian agriculture at present that are a little different to past scenarios where switches between enterprises was possible resulting in huge price fluctuations and boom/bust consequences. The main factor overriding all decisions is farm debt level resulting from recurrent years of crippling drought where producer's intentions are derailed by lack of funds and the lure of that one season to “turn the tide”.
So what is happening within the lamb industry and what can we expect? The demand for breeding stock has led to reduced slaughter numbers in both lamb and sheep markets across Australia and has led to very high prices being sustained. According to NLRS, lamb and sheep yardings have been down 7% and 35% respectively in the 6months to June 2010 when compared to the same period last year. This has resulted in decreased export levels (-10% and -31% to June 2010) and some market opportunities for competing countries for our sheep meat product, especially NZ and South American countries such as Brazil and Argentina. The national flock has stabilized at around 70 million with an increasing percentage being breeding ewes. It is the composition of our breeding flock that is the big change in the Australian sheep industry and I will address this later in this newsletter. With our supply not meeting demand, and demand not likely to fall, the future has to be positive, but with a word of warning. The high $A and continuing high lamb prices creates a problem for our export markets who are looking for some relief from sustained high price levels. It should also be noted that domestic consumption of lamb, although still increasing (due in no small way to Sam Kekovitch) is showing signs of consumer resistance due to the consistent high retail prices.
Take home message; “continue to enjoy the benefits of prime lamb but don't lose sight of where our product goes and their costs and profit margins”
HOW TO MAKE MORE FROM YOUR LAMBS
Information taken from MLA “It's Ewe Time” presentation by Alex Ball
With trade lamb prices up 8% from the record level last year and sheep prices 52% higher than the same time last year, many could be forgiven for thinking that nothing needs to change and all will remain fine. Reality is, this is the best time to make changes that will ensure long term viability in the industry. Many producers will be aware of the MLA seminars that have been conducted in many areas, the latest being “It's Ewe Time”. This seminar focuses on weaning 10% more lambs, increasing carcase weights by 10% and generally making sheep easier to manage. There are many opportunities for producers to attend workshops and seminars such as these, another being “life time ewe management”, and the information gained by attending these events will put lamb producers in the best position to make the greatest gains going forward into a new era.
As already mentioned, the demand for lambs and sheep (ewes) will continue to be strong and lamb producers will need to maximize their potential profits to make the most of every opportunity. More lambs per hectare and more weight on these lambs will result in greater returns to producers so the focus needs to be on the management of the ewe initially and subsequently the lambs. It is perhaps more to do with the things we cannot see visually, the genetics, that can have a biggest effect on the ultimate productivity of your lamb operation. Issues such as fertility, maternal factors, lamb survivability and ewe temperament are vitally important and many gains are being made in these areas through the Sheep CRC research program.
Joining of ewe lambs is area where significant gains can be made but must be linked with very good management practices to provide significant advantages.
Producers need to ensure every ewe delivers a healthy lamb and rears that lamb and, through pregnancy scanning, that feed supply is matched to ewes requirements to ensure maximum chances of lamb survival and good lamb growth. There is little gain to be made if pregnancy scanning is not followed by segregation of single and multiple lambing ewes into different management groups.
Sounds simple; concentrate on genetics and management and all will be OK! So what genetic traits are important? The high level of research being conducted within the sheep industry is continuing to uncover many links between genetics and the ultimate profit that sheep producers can gain from their flock. Genetics that affect growth, muscle and fat are obvious and are well known. Areas such as worm resistance, birth weight, lambing ease and gestation length are now able to be manipulated through genetics. New findings in the area of meat quality such as tenderness, intra muscular fat, glycogen content and meat nutrition (Omega -3, Iron and Zinc) are all potentially able to be manipulated genetically. The interactions between these genes are providing some very interesting possibilities for lamb producers and there will be many more uncovered as this research continues. Muscle is looking like one of the main drivers of the many advantages that genetically an animal can possess having positive links to growth, feed efficiency, worm resistance and milking ability in addition to the obvious carcase advantages.
Producers must make every lamb count firstly by breeding the right lamb for your targeted market, know your cost of production then manage nutrition to look after the ewe and make every lamb count.
Finally know what is happening within the industry.
USING WHITE SUFFOLK 1 st X CROSS EWES
For quite a number of years many lamb producers have been using White Suffolk first cross ewes as a means of breeding 2 nd cross lambs. At Pendarra, we conducted some work in this area many years ago and, as a national committee member, encouraged this aspect as part of breed promotion. Trials conducted at the Cowra Research Station, as part of the Maternal Central Progeny Testing program, indicated that the White Suffolk 1 st cross ewe was outstanding in all areas and equal to the more traditional maternal sires. Recent information has indicated that a significant proportion of the non Merino breeding ewes in the Australian sheep flock are currently White Suffolk 1 st cross and 2 nd cross ewes. Reports from all states are that this number is set to increase this year as more producers retain a proportion of their 1 st cross lambs rather than buy replacement ewes.
Given the emphasis on carcase traits in the prime lamb market, it makes perfect sense to use a maternal sheep that has these traits embedded in their breeding history and in the past, the old Suffolk was considered a very good 1 st cross ewe, colour excluded. If you are considering expanding your sheep numbers and are a little deterred by the cost of ewes, the use of White Suffolk 1 st cross ewes is one of the alternatives you could consider. You can still use a White Suffolk sire over these ewes and will subsequently notice a huge gain in growth rate and carcase conformation of their lambs. They are very fertile, make great mothers and you retain control over the exact type of lambs you are producing.
Any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.
USING ALL THE INFORMATION AVAILABLE TO SELECT RAMS.
There is no doubt the Australian sheep industry has changed dramatically over the last 10 years with the effect of prolonged drought having a big effect on national flock size and the introduction of a large number of diverse breeds from other countries. Dohnes, Dorpers, SAMMs, Ille De France, Charalais, Damara all bringing new genetics and challenges and the list goes on. There has also been a big change in the information that we can use to select the sires we use in our sheep flock.
For many years, basically all sheep selection was based on visual selection of what was considered the best sire for their breeding program. Genetic gain was not only slow but became a little tricky when a sire that visually looked OK turned out to breed sheep that were not what was expected. This came about because the environment in which sheep are raised has a big impact on how they grow and appear, especially in situations when sheep are prepared for shows or feed excessively to look good. The last decade has seen a dramatic increase in the use of genetic evaluation to enable the best sires to be selected without the “camouflage” of a big feeding influence.
Lambplan is one system that cancels out all the environmental and maternal influences that affect how a ram appears and basically generates a genetic map of just what a particular sire will produce in his progeny. No longer is sire selection just a wild guess based on physical appearance.
Past experience has tended to indicate that “big is best”, recent evidence has proven that this is more often than not an incorrect assumption and the lamb industry is far better served by less extreme animals. Unless you have some idea of the genetic makeup with relation to carcase traits, you may as well select rams with a blindfold on.
So what carcase traits do we need to look for? If you are buying sires from a stud breeder who is using Lambplan, he is doing a majority of the work for you. But just using Lambplan isn't enough! He should be tailoring his breeding program based on the specific traits that will benefit your commercial lamb operation. The important thing to remember that if he is supplying genetics to a wide range of conflicting regions, the mix of genetics within the stud may vary slightly to allow for the different needs of clients so you need to work with your ram supplier to ensure you are using the right mix of genetics.
This mix should concentrate on 2 or 3 areas that are important to your profitability. Don't try to complicate the selection process by looking at too many possibilities. Once again you ram supplier will be able to assist but if you are in a marginal pastoral area, muscle and fat are the 2 main areas as it is unlikely that your feed situation in an average year would support high growth rate animals. Concentrating on these 2 traits alone will ensure good feed efficiency and fast growth to saleable weights that will produce higher returns. If your situation is a little better and reliable with regard to feed, you may have to look at sires with slightly higher growth rates and perhaps a little leaner to ensure that your lambs do run to fat too early. The same applies if you are targeting your lambs for different markets, you can match sire selection to enable you to reach these target markets If you are buying sires on visual appearance only, you are likely to end up with lambs that are uneven and will fit into all market criteria at different times. Some will never make any market if they are too lean in the wrong climate. Once you have decided on a target market, stick to it. There is some flexibility depending on the rams you have selected but basically, once you have decided to target the trade lamb market @ 20-23kg, don't try to grow them out to export weights.
Take home message; do not try to second guess what type of lambs a ram will produce based on their appearance. The tools are available to select the exact genetics that will enable commercial lamb producers to produce an even line of lambs that fit exactly the target market that you intended.
If you are not using and selecting sires that have had some form of genetic evaluation, you are risking your profitability.
RECENT FINDINGS FROM SHEEP CRC
The ongoing Sheep CRC program is transforming what we know about sheep and how to manage genetics to produce exactly what the commercial lamb producer and consumer want. The program is not only identifying all the genes that are important to sheep production and quality, but also finding correlations between these genes that are either beneficial or detrimental to all areas of sheep production and meat quality.
Recent findings have potentially linked excessive leanness to many adverse consequences including meat quality, fertility and lamb survival. Excessively lean animals are producing tough meat, result in lower rates of fertility and there is a hint of evidence relating to lower lamb survival rates in their progeny. The push over the past 15 years in the lamb industry has been toward leaner animals and there is some fear that in some animals, we have overshot the runway. There are some sires in the industry that have become too extreme in leanness and are producing inferior progeny in these identifiable areas.
On the flip side of this trait is the positive correlations relating to animals that are more moderate in fat. Sires with moderate levels of fat as identified through genetic evaluation are producing progeny with better feed conversion rates, higher levels of intra muscular fat, better eating quality and are more fertile. This is especially important in maternal genetics where fat storage at some level is essential to provide for the lamb.
Muscle is another are that has some important consequences. Positive correlations are being discovered between high muscling and better worm resistance, stronger staple strength in Merinos, and we found at Pendarra a good relationship between high muscle and feed conversion. However rams that too excessive in muscle relative to growth rate have some real issues in relation to lambing difficulty, finishing ability and meat quality. It is all about balancing muscle with potential growth rates.
Much more is to come out of the Sheep CRC, especially in the area of meat quality and nutritional content, in particular relating to Omega -3 content.
Keep watch for further developments
WHAT'S HAPPENING AT PENDARRA
Short Answer – PLENTY!
We have slightly increased our ewe numbers this year to cater for increased demand for our genetics, especially on the White Dorper composite side of our operation. These genetics are proving outstanding in many areas across the state and demand is exceeding supply at this stage.
Our genetics continue to be in high demand with sales to all states last year and many of the top performance sires in the industry directly related to our genetics. As the industry focuses more and more on carcase traits that benefit both producers and processors, our breeding strategies gain more attention and credibility. Glad to see we get it right sometimes!
We have continued to base our breeding program on sound selections based on all available information, including that coming from the Sheep CRC. Several of our sires have been involved in CRC trials over the years and have provided information that will ultimately benefit all sheep producers. Our focus has, and remains totally commercially focused which, judging by the results from our clients over the past 12 months, must be working.
Congratulations to those who reported outstanding results with their lamb sales (and ewe sales) and thank you for your feedback. Let's hope this year produces the same result and the sheep industry continues to show the way assisting primary producers to get through this extended period of drought. It is pleasing to see some very good crops with sheep grazing all over them
We decided against a large program of showing across the state this year; went to Canberra Royal and did exceptionally well, but time and priorities have forced us to concentrate on other areas. We will be taking sheep to many of the local shows so please come and visit us.
We displayed our sheep once again at the Riverina Field Days which gave us the opportunity to catch up with many existing clients and some prospective new clients. These field days are always interesting and enable us to listen to producers and establish where they see the direction of their production system going. We as a ram breeders learn a lot from the interaction with lamb producers at these events.
This year I also had the honor of judging White Suffolks at Woolarama in WA. Although a long way to travel it was great to see some exceptional sheep and catch up with fellow breeders and great friends and have the opportunity to look around their properties and livestock.
We have had 7 of our young 2009 drop sires genetically mapped through a new pilot program which should allow us to predict the genetic makeup of our young sires before any progeny are evaluated. Most of these young rams have lambs on the ground already.
Rams will be available from late August so give us a call to book your requirements and remember we will assist in all areas of sire selection to ensure you are using the right mix of genetics.
Murray & Di Long