Deferred grazing pays off at Pingelly

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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East Pingelly farmers Andrew and Les Marshall are no strangers to high lambing percentages.

The nephew and uncle team this year achieved 126 per cent lambing across their 4000-strong flock, and have registered similar levels of success in each of the past 10 years.

Andrew Marshall said 30 per cent of their breeding flock were Merinos, with the remainder being F1 Prime SAMMs.

Mr Marshall said their successful management strategy involves a deferred grazing program to ensure ample feed when most needed.

"In mid-April our sheep are put into confined grazing areas of about 2ha and are hand fed with straw, hay and lupins," he said.

"This enables our pastures … to really bulk up."

Sheep are fed a supplement of calcium sulphur during this time.

Mr Marshall said the sheep were put in the pastures around the start of June.

He said they also ran maximum mob sizes of 300, the smaller numbers leading to less mis-mothering.

Ample water across the property makes this possible. Another important contributor is pregnancy testing in mid-April, using the services of Steve Phillips at Popanyinning.

Ewes pregnant with multiples were separated, Mr Marshall said.

"We run the Merino and SAMM ewes pregnant with twins together, and it doesn't matter about their age," he said.

Other techniques include shearing in February when the ewes do not have a lamb.

They crutch in September ahead of the summer. Mr Marshall said they bred ewes until about seven years and had a self replacing ewe flock.

Original bloodlines for the Merinos are from Lewisdale at Wickepin and SAMMs are from Callum at Jerramungup.

The Marshalls' Merinos have wool of about 21-22 micron and the SAMMs about one micron higher.

Mr Marshall said although the cut of the wool was higher in the Merinos, his experience showed the SAMMs were about 10 per cent more fertile. He plans to vote for the status quo of a 2 per cent wool levy to remain in the upcoming WoolPoll, though thinks a better system would be for Australian Wool Innovation to determine its budget, then set an appropriate levy to match to a maximum 2 per cent.

The sheep operation accounts for about 40 per cent of the Marshalls' business, which is now in its 50th year of operation.

With Andrew's wife Jodie and Les' wife Cindy, they also run a cropping program, which this year was about 1800ha.

This year, they planted 310ha of Bannister oats, 120ha of Stingray canola and 1200ha of LaTrobe, Hindmarsh and Scope barley.

Barley plantings are significantly up on previous years.

They also operate a pasture seed operation and in January will harvest their 120ha of Dalkeith clover.

Last year, the Marshalls produced 100 tonnes of pasture seed, which provided a significant cash flow.

Mr Marshall said this year, for the first time, they had opted not to plant wheat.

"Barley and oats yield more and overall are more profitable per hectare, and leave more stubble for the sheep," he said.

"Meanwhile, wheat is most susceptible to frost."

Mr Marshall said they had also reduced their canola program by half this year and were likely to reduce it by this amount again in 2016.

Although oats have recently become a popular crop because of strong prices and new varieties, Mr Marshall said they had always planted about the same amount of oats.

They sell their oats to Quaker and are that company's longest-serving supplier.

The Marshalls are very optimistic about this season, their crops looking as good as they did during the 2013 bumper year after receiving 270mm of rain for the growing season.

Although there was a dry phase that ended when between 40mm and 60mm of rainfall was dumped on the farm in late July/early August, Mr Marshall said crops weren't suffering.

"Pastures were feeling the stress more at that point, but our deferred grazing really helped," he said.

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