Joining ewe lambs to boost productivity at Woodstock

Robert Sheridan, Woodstock, Nangus with 600 of his Meat Plus cross Poll Dorset lambs.
Robert Sheridan, Woodstock, Nangus with 600 of his Meat Plus cross Poll Dorset lambs.

Robert and Helen Sheridan, Woodstock, Nangus via Junee sell close to 8000 lambs every year.

For the last five weeks their lambs have attracted the top price at the Wagga Wagga saleyards and Mr Sheridan said he was aiming for a $300 average over a six month period.

"The lamb job has changed a lot over the last 30 years, I used to top the Wagga market at $28 for a lamb, now we're getting $300," Mr Sheridan said.

"But the price of land has gone up at the same rate, as have costs, so we've virtually got to make those prices."

The Sheridans run 800 Merinos, 1200 first cross and 5000 Meat Plus ewes.

"We buy in Merino ewes and put Border Leicesters over them, that gives us a first cross ewe lamb," Mr Sheridan said.

"We keep those and put a Meat Plus composite maternal over them, then we keep the ewe portion and put the Poll Dorsets over the Meat Plus ewes."

He said one of their key strategies to maximise productivity was joining their ewe lambs.

"We join our ewe lambs at eight months and they're lambing at 13-months-old," Mr Sheridan said.

"They've got to be a five condition score at least when they're joined, sometimes I've joined them in feedlot yards as well."

Heavy lambs heading to the saleyards this week.

Heavy lambs heading to the saleyards this week.

Mr Sheridan said the ewe lambs were only given one chance and if they were scanned dry, they were sold as fat lambs.

"By the time the ewes are two years old I have 300 per cent of lambs out of them," he said.

The Sheridans were also early adopters of vaccinating with Coopers Ovilis CampyVax to prevent ewe abortions.

"We were having an issue, they were scanning in lamb and then when lambing time came there was no lamb," he said.

"Now we're virtually getting a 100 per cent success rate."

They mostly lamb in June, to catch the sucker market when they can.

"We try and get them all off as suckers to Woolworths or Coles in October, but the last couple of years we haven't been able to do that because of the dry springs," he said.

"The ones we don't sell as suckers, we shear and carry them through to sell the next autumn."

The Sheridans put in Lucerne, grazing canola and wheat crops for winter feed.

"We have a little bit of irrigation, but we haven't had the water," Mr Sheridan said.

"I've sowed a lot of long-season grazing canola this year, they fatten extremely well on that."

Lambs grazing on a long season canola.

Lambs grazing on a long season canola.

They also harvest grain crops, mostly for sheep feed, as they usually feedlot over the summer, giving sheep a ration of barley, wheat, lupins, hay and silage.

"With the way the market's gone, we've been feedlotting more," he said.

Mr Sheridan said this year the lambs he was selling in February and March out of the feedlots were making up to $340, while the heavier lambs being sold off the crops at the moment were topping at $285.

"This year's gone against the trend, generally the lamb market peaks in June, July but this year it was better in March," Mr Sheridan said.

"I'm just about out of heavy lambs, the ones I'm selling now are the ones out of our ewe lambs that dropped in September.

"I think once the new season lambs hit the market, it will come back to $7/kg."

He said his general rule was to sell in the yards on a rising market and over the hook on a falling market.

"You can lock in on a hook price, and on a falling market, by the time you deliver it might have dropped another dollar a kilo."

And while he breeds his own first cross and Meat Plus ewes, he buys in Merinos ewes.

"I've got three breeds of sheep now, Merinos, first-cross and composites, I don't want to be breeding Merino ewes as well, I let someone else do that," he said.

"We buy them in the springtime, I changed ewes over last year, I got good money for old Merino ewes and I bought new ones.

"I had to pay $240 for Merino ewes, but those same ewes have finished lambing now so all up they should be worth $500."

Mr Sheridan said despite decades farming, he was still constantly learning.