Afrinos primed for market

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

The Wellard Group's investment in prime lamb genetics and breeding has positioned the company's farming division, Wellard Agri, for the changing market.

Wellard Agri chief executive Tim Macnamara said its Dongara-based Afrino stud, The Grange, has fast-forwarded its breeding program with last year's 400-head acquisition of the Golden Hill stud from the Ditchburn family.

"The 200 ewes, 180 ram and ewe lambs and six stud sires we picked up from the Golden Hill dispersal sale in October last year has put us three years ahead of schedule," he said.

"This has given us the opportunity to expand the stud to 290 ewes, 190 lamb weaners, 30 ram hoggets and six stud sires."

Mr Macnamara said when Wellard acquired The Grange in 2010, it retained the commercial Afrino line being managed by Grange livestock manager Geoff Crabb because Wellard was keen to utilise and expand on the genetics already in place.

This flock has now developed to about 14,000 commercial Afrino breeding ewes at The Grange.

"The breed has superb growth genetics and delivers profits quickly," Mr Macnamara said.

"It has easy-care wool traits, good fertility and quick growth. Plus the breed has a low birth weight, which makes delivery easier, reducing lambing mortality and animal stress."

Mr Macnamara also said they tested the market for the breed last year, with excellent results.

"We nominated 40 rams for a soft launch sale last August and ended up selling 44 rams (the remaining four had to be selected from the sale reserves)," Mr Macnamara said.

"The rams were all paddock-reared over 14 months and came in at an average weight of about 82kg.

"When you've got small lambing birth weight with strong early growth and low impact on the ewe, this can promote multiple births.

"The breed's early growth means you can wean the lamb earlier, return the ewe to the paddock and begin to concentrate on the breeding for the following year."

Mr Macnamara said Wellard would be looking to grow the Afrino business by expanding its clientele, as well as continuing its genetics program.

Mr Crabb said the majority of the commercial Afrino lambs on The Grange were going to abattoir V&V Walsh and sold as Amelia Park prime lamb.

"About 98 per cent of our trade lambs are hitting the premium grade on the grid," he said.

"This breed has a characteristic of adding and holding weight within high and low rainfall zones and is also able to maintain weight on a simple diet of pasture, stubble and fodder mix for basic finishing.

"This is an excellent result when you consider the food to weight conversion is excellent for the breed."

In its latest forecasts, Meat and Livestock Australia said the industry was focusing on prime lamb products. It expected sheep flock numbers to bottom out to 71 million head this year before numbers recover in 2019.

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