Wethers are relief valve for Alexanders

Archie Alexander with his father Brent in the paddock of mixed species cover crops grazed by September-shorn Merino ewes with July-drop lambs.

Archie Alexander with his father Brent in the paddock of mixed species cover crops grazed by September-shorn Merino ewes with July-drop lambs.

Increasing the sheep numbers on Oakwood at Milbrulong has enabled Brent Alexander to keep on top of the annual ryegrass and reduce usage of nitrogenous fertilisers in his cropping enterprise through the grazing of vetch as a green manure crop.

Mr Alexander was a keynote speaker during the recent 2020 Graham Centre Livestock Forum conducted online.

His topic was increasing production on a mixed-enterprise farm by lifting dry matter production, reducing inputs and reducing risk.

Sheep had long been a feature on the family farm, but drought determined a cutback in numbers due to pressure of feeding with small returns.

The winter cereal cropping program then expanded with increasing dependence on the use of pulse crops to replenish soil nitrogen, along with greater reliance on crop selective herbicides for weed control.

But for the fourth-generation farmer in the Lockhart district, who operates the Oakwood aggregation of 3250 hectares in partnership with his wife, Simone, and father, Walter, the self-replacing Pastora-blood Merino flock has become an integral enterprise to the farming business.

"We nearly went out of sheep because of the tough years from 2006, but we kept our maidens," Mr Alexander said.

The family then expanded their operation through lease country, but they found some paddocks weren't easily cropped so they bought in more Merino ewes.

"I had always enjoyed growing wool, it was purely a feel-good thing and not an economic decision," he said.

The ewes are classed by Craig Wilson and Mr Alexander is moving towards a dual-purpose Merino to get the two streams of income.

"Regardless of what sheep enterprise you are running, you are still selling surplus sheep so you are reducing your chance of income if you haven't the numbers," he said.

The grown sheep are cutting around seven kilograms and with a mid-ninety lambing percentage Mr Alexander is still aiming at lifting the productivity of the sheep enterprise.

"Wether lambs had been sold over-the-hooks but for the first time in many years we have kept last year's drop as wool cutters," he said.

"Obviously we have the wethers to sell if it turns dry, but we went heavily into the ewes last spring and we sold the two older age groups to lighten the load over summer. We will be able to sell wethers in the future to relieve our stocking rate rather than sell our breeders."

The introduction of cover crops including vetch as a green manure crop allowed nitrogen levels to be replenished but the growth could be extraordinary with a good autumn break.

Mr Alexander initially sowed vetch to lift his cereal cropping results, but although it has prolific growth in the spring, autumn/winter production was limited and when he added grazing wheat to the mix in 2015, the lift in feed availability was immediate.

Mr Alexander added tillage radish and purple top turnip to the mix of pasture species.