Reliable Samms salute for Quinlivans

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Genetics are proving a winner for Todd Quinlivan's Esperance operation, after the family took out the WAMMCO producer of the month for the seventh time.

With his wife Jody and daughter Katie Nell, Todd runs between 8500 and 9000 Samm-cross ewes on their Esperance properties.

It's now been almost a year since the family lost Todd's father Mick - a stalwart of both the agricultural and sheep meat industries.

A founding member of WAMMCO and a director until just before his sudden passing, Mick had been a staunch supporter of the livestock industry, particularly sheep.

"He was always a strong believer in the sheep industry in general but particularly in the last decade or so in sheep meat," Todd said.

"He was one of the original guys to get involved in Samms and we've been with them a long time."

Previously Merino breeders before switching to Samms in 1997, Mick's passion and drive for the breed was rewarded by the Quinlivans being named WAMMCO producer of the month twice in the last year, in December 2010 and July 2011.

July's winning consignment of 132 lambs weighed an average of 25.52kg, valued at $6.19/kg.

They returned an impressive $163.48 a head, including skins.

It's a success that Todd attributes directly to the family's strong focus on genetics.

One of the original breeders of Samms, with some of the earliest bloodstock genetics in Australia, the Quinlivans were early advocators of selecting for carcase characteristics with Lambplan.

Selection based on ewe fertility is also a key component of Todd's management plan.

"On a commercial level we've been pregnancy scanning for multiples for many years," he said.

"When we select replacement ewes a lot of the focus is given to ewe lambs out of those sheep that are either out of multiples themselves or might have lambed as lambs.

"We identify them and once they are scanned as multiples that can be a life long identification - we now have mobs that have multiples two or three years in a row."

Selection of multiple lambers has already resulted in improved lambing percentages, but Todd said it's now a case of perfecting ewe nutrition.

Ewes are mated to Samm rams in mid-December and a close eye is kept on the nutrition of the high fertility ewes.

"We've got onto lick feeders the last year or two and we adjust their rations according to what we believe the ewe needs," Todd said.

This season the family has about 200ha of Wedgetail grazing wheat on their higher rainfall property but are looking to also graze their canola next season.

"We're finding more success with the Wedgetail in the high rainfall areas and unless the season is long or an early start I think Wedgetail for our other properties is too long-season," Todd said.

"At our medium rainfall farm it's more of an opportunity thing - if it's a long season, with an early break we'll plant it and graze it."

While ewes with lambs and dry sheep are run on the grazing cereals, Todd said the system seems to work better with their 1000 cattle breeders.

"At that time of the year the ewes are normally in the middle of lambing, so they're not quite as mobile as the cattle," he said.

"We're probably finding more cattle grazing opportunities than sheep grazing opportunities."

After being dropped mid-May to June, lambs are finished according to their location and condition, with the first usually sent to WAMMCO for processing in November.

"We're able to get a mixture of lambs as suckers off their mothers, some go off stubbles and then some we finish in the shed," Todd said.

"We do a bit of agistment in the mallee and quite often they can be finished on stubbles up there with the better sheep country, but generally on the sandplain, sheep get finished in the shed."

Rations are determined by grain price and quality, with the Quinlivans buying in grain the last two seasons.

"It depends on the harvest we've had," Todd said.

"If we've got good quality grain then we tend to sell that and buy off-spec grain or pellets depending on the economics at the time."

Wool still plays a part, albeit a smaller one, in the family's operation.

"(Mick) was a strong advocate of wool - he rode the ups and downs as hard as anyone," Todd said.

"I think he would have liked to have been with us now to have seen where the wool market is now.

"Samm wool is competitive… we're pretty happy with where the prices are going and it's a good micron range.

"We're probably more 22 to 23 micron and there is a reduction in cut compared to Merinos, but that's outweighed by the lamb and fertility side of the equation."

Todd said they will stick with Samms for the foreseeable future.

"They're an easy care sheep, they finish well and are very versatile whether you want them as a maternal or even as a prime lamb breed," he said.

"I think the real goal is to keep increasing fertility and to make sure all the ewes we get pregnant with multiples that we get as many lambs out of them as we can."

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