Continued refining of Grong Grong sheep operation pays dividends

Grong Grong farmers Boyd (left) and Kent Steward with Quality Wool South West Slopes representative Rob Leak during shearing earlier this year.

CROSSBRED lamb production is a process the Steward family have been refining for many years at their property at Grong Grong, in the Riverina region of New South Wales.

Brothers Kent and Boyd Steward run a cropping and livestock enterprise across 4049 hectares, with a portion of the farm backing on to the Murrumbidgee River.

The cropping program covers 2834ha and comprises wheat, canola and barley, as well as some dual-purpose crops including grazing wheat and barley varieties.

It was a very wet start to the season for the Stewards, with their total annual rainfall (460 millimetres) falling within the first six months of the year.

Subsequently, they haven’t required the 162ha of irrigation they can use as a drought-proofing tool in drier seasons.

They also run 3000 crossbred ewes, turning off about 4000 second-cross lambs each season.

The family has been farming in the region for nearly 100 years, and, for as long as Kent can remember, crossbred lamb production has played an important role in the enterprise.

“We buy in first-cross Merino/Border Leicester ewes and then join them with a Poll Dorset ram to get the second-cross lambs,” Kent said.

“We used to breed our own first-cross ewes, but we’ve found it’s just as easy to buy them in.

“The crossbreds are better breeders and they are also good mothers, which is why we use them.”

Kent said the ewes bought in the last few years were derived from fine wool Merinos, coming from the Tamworth region.

He said the ewes were joined at the end of February for an August lambing, with the Poll Dorset rams sourced from Deepdene Poll Dorset Stud at Narrandera.

The lambing percentage sits at around 130 per cent and Kent said he and Boyd focused on getting the ewes’ nutrition right prior to lambing.

“If you get the nutrition right, then we find we don’t get as many problems coming into lambing.’’

“This year it was hard to keep the trace elements up because it was so wet, so there was plenty of feed but no quality – it lacked minerals.

“So we put out dry lick and blocks to supplement the trace elements to give them a boost.”

The main shearing takes place in June, with the lambs shorn in late March, but Kent said they would prefer the main shearing to also be in March and were looking to change to this.

They produce more than 100 bales each season, at an average of 30 micron, although the newer ewes are finer at around 27 micron.

The wool is sold straight after shearing and Kent said they had recently been working with Quality Wool South West Slopes representative Rob Leak to market their clip.

As the president of the local football and netball association, Kent said he also valued the fact Quality Wool sponsored the club.

“We’ve been working with Rob for three years now and he’s been good,” Kent said.

“He’s always done the right thing by us so we’ll stick with him.

“We sell by auction as it seems to be the best option.”

The Stewards usually start selling lambs from June onwards between 9-12 months of age, and for the last few seasons they have been selling them through the Wagga Wagga saleyards.

Kent said they had sold them over the hooks in other years, but they had been achieving strong results from the saleyards.

“This year, three quarters of our lambs have sold for better than $200, with a top price of $229,” he said.

“It’s been fantastic, that’s the best we’ve ever done.”