Weaning more lambs the focus at Boort

Boort growers Mark and Belinda Perryman and their children Jed, Bridget, Sophie and Eliza inspect a fleece with Quality Wool Bendigo manager Vallon Gibson.

A STRONG focus on sheep fertility, breeding more dual purpose, easy care Merinos and continuously fine-tuning management techniques is helping Mark Perryman achieve the primary aim of “weaning more lambs’’ on his family’s property near Boort, in Victoria.

While lamb marking percentages were around 85pc in previous years, this has jumped to 110pc this year and Mark is now targeting 120pc.

The Perrymans, including Mark’s brother, Troy, their father, Dean, and uncle, Craig, run a cropping and livestock enterprise over about 4450ha, including a property at Wycheproof.

Troy manages the cropping program, comprising about 2630ha that is continuously cropped to wheat, barley, canola, lentils and vetch, while Mark runs the livestock based from their farm at Mysia, near Boort, with his wife, Belinda. They have four children, including daughters Sophie, Eliza and Bridget, and son Jed.

The Mysia property, featuring mainly light soils and some good loamy country, is cropped for about three years every decade and also includes up to 365ha that can be irrigated from a permanent water source. The Perrymans have used 100pc of their water allocation in previous seasons, however it has become more expensive this year.

The focus on fertility, as well as on lamb and mutton returns, prompted a breeding move when Mark took over the livestock enterprise 18 years ago.

“We wanted to grow more lambs and so we wanted more easy care sheep,’’ Mark said.

“We had always been based on Concordia (bloodline) and we had heavy cutting, strong wool sheep with a lot of skin.

“They had big necks and with the long winters, it could get wet. We used to shear in July and it was always wet.

“We went to a dual purpose Merino with Panorama (bloodline). Panorama sheep are a lot plainer and our wool cut came back a little, but we grew a bigger animal a lot quicker and with less skin.

“We have swung back to Concordia a little in the last three to four years. My father had said it won’t take long to breed the wool off them. We keep the ewes for five years and I was amazed how much you can breed the wool off them in one cycle.’’

“In an average year, we still hope to skirt 8 kilograms (of wool) per head and the micron is still around 22 microns. We didn’t go finer, we just took the skin off.

“On stubbles, the wool can fill up with dust and so you can’t go too pretty with it. It still has to be big and bold.’’

About 800 ewes are mated to Border Leicester terminal sires from mid-October for a March lambing, while a further 2200 are joined to Merinos from mid-November for lambing from late April.

Due to the difficult conditions this year, the ewes lambed onto irrigated feed paddocks, where lucerne is grown. Ryegrass is also sown into the permanent lucerne stands to help fill the “feed gap’’ from May to August, when the lucerne is dormant.

The ewes are pregnancy scanned, which has also helped to increase lambing percentages, and in a normal season only the twin bearing ewes go on the irrigated paddocks, while those with one lamb go on the dryland sub clover and rye pastures. The ewes also have access to barley with an additive in feeders.

Mark said with the scanning, the ewes only get two chances. After the first scan, they are then scanned as a three-year-old and if they are not pregnant again, they are culled from the flock

Weighing of lambs is also performed to select top, middle and bottom lines. The top lambs go on the sub clover and rye paddocks and are sold at the Bendigo market in November – also helping to relieve stocking pressure – achieving prices of around $200 per head.

The middle line, contracted for sale in January, goes on the irrigated lucerne and rye for 12 weeks and is fed grain in feeders.

Wether lambs are also sold before Christmas.

Shearing is now held in September and produces around 200 bales of wool.

Mark, formerly a shearer and who has also carried out mulesing and wool classing in the region, said he previously alternated the marketing of the family’s clip between two brokers.

He has since been working closely with Quality Wool’s local Bendigo manager, Vallon Gibson, and the company has been entrusted with the sale of the whole clip for the past three years.

“They are more cost-effective than other brokers and Vallon is very professional. If he says he’ll be there, he’ll be there – or he will ring you. I also receive regular texts and emails and they will pick up your wool.’’

The main clip is generally sold at auction and some lines can be held for more suitable market timing. They sold some of last year’s clip earlier this year in March.

“My father used to say that was always a good time to sell wool,’’ Mark said.

Wool oddments are sold for cash and the Perrymans have also taken advantage of attractive forward selling opportunities.

“We locked in a forward contract a few years ago and this year, when the market was 1475 (cents per kilogram), we took 1280 (c/kg) as the minimum, but with upside,’’ Mark said.

“We hedged our bets and did it as a bit of insurance. We did about 40 bales – I now wish I had done 100.’’

The wool recently sold for 1220c/kg, so the Perrymans picked up an extra 60c/kg.

Vallon, Mark and Belinda with Sophie, Eliza, Bridget and Jed.

Vallon, Mark and Belinda with Sophie, Eliza, Bridget and Jed.

Sophie, Bridget, Jed and Eliza love the farming life at Boort.

Sophie, Bridget, Jed and Eliza love the farming life at Boort.