Profitability a matter of survival

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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The entrance sign to Kane and Rebecca Page's Pingelly sheep farm reads, 'Welcome to the home of Walwalling Lamb the stress-free lamb'.

Now the sign maker has been called to add another element to the welcoming message, which will then read that the Page family are now members of the 100%+ Club.

In being nominated for the Department of Agriculture and Food WA's (DAFWA) More Sheep Initiative, Mr Page said it signified his family's commitment to sustainable sheep production.

Club co-ordinator Sam Giles, of DAFWA, said it was developed as a way of recognising the efforts of WA's leading sheep producers in achieving outstanding flock reproductive performances.

Since the Pages took over the farm in 2000, there has been no looking back in developing a highly fertile Merino flock.

The 2926-hectare enterprise, which includes leased country, now carries 2700 self-replacing breeding ewes and an additional 3000 to mainly Poll Dorset terminal sires.

The mixed farm includes 1600ha of crop, of which 1000ha is wheat, 350ha canola and 250ha oats.

This year, Walwalling carried a dry sheep equivalent (DSE) per winter grazed hectares rate of 14 sheep, which was down on previous years, from 17 (DSE).

The reason was that Mr Page took two paddocks (100ha) out of the cropping program, increasing the amount of pasture available to his stock.

"The DSE count did not include sheep grazed on crops," he said.

"We have achieved 100 per cent or thereabouts in four out of the past five years."

The target at Walwalling is to achieve 120 per cent marked lambing with a management objective focused on more conceived lambs and lower mortality rate.

"Three years ago I took the pilot course for Lifetime Ewe Management and continue to be an avid follower of the practice of condition scoring ewes, measuring feed on offer and doing feed budgets," Mr Page said.

He said the nutritional requirement of lactating ewes was important to understand and manage in order to sustain a high lambing percentage.

"Condition score (CS) of the ewe at joining must be above CS three to achieve high conception rates, and maintaining that through pregnancy is important for ewe and lamb survival rate."

To reach 120 per cent lambing, Mr Page said the flock would require appropriate genetic infusion.

For the past 16 years, the Pages have been using genetics from Glendemar Multi Purpose Merinos (MPM), of Victoria, and Moojepin MPM, of Katanning.

MPM sheep have no body wrinkle and loose and very soft skin which produces fast-growing, stylish white wools with desirable carcase attributes.

Moojepin uses Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) to advance early growth, muscle and body fat levels, which all contribute to fertility.

Mr Page gets Moojepin principal David Thompson to class the Walwalling breeding flock and select rams using ASBVs.

A 600-head ewe nucleus flock produces flock rams to select from.

Mr Page said joining began in February and rams were in for five weeks for two oestrus cycles.

Pregnancy and litter scanning have been an important part of the farm management program for the past seven years.

"This year's testing had lambs conceived at 130 per cent," said Mr Page, who recently tagged a mob of 74 single mated ewes, which were not scanned, and marked 103 lambs at 140 per cent.

"July lambing onto green feed provides good nutrition during lactation," he said.

"The nutrition of ewes scanned to singles is held back during lambing to meet, but not exceed, their nutritional requirements to reduce dystocia.

"Once these ewes have lambed they will be put onto crops for grazing to increase their nutritional intake.

"Ewes scanned to multiple lambs are grazed in the best paddocks with the most feed and shelter. Multiple-birth ewes are run in mobs of 200 or less."

With a goal of increasing multiple births and lower infant mortality, the Pages are keen to combine their 'low stress stock' handling methods with all the tools they can apply in management and genetic resources to push the boundaries of sheep production.

In the next six months, Mr Page will collect pedigrees on both parents and lambs will be weighed and scanned for muscle and body fat to begin an ASBV recording program on-farm.

"Farm profitability will be driven by high-performing ewes, more lambs and increased saleable sheep numbers," he said.

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