Top marks for Williams producers

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Williams farmers James and Diane Evans qualified for the 100%+ Club during the past two years, and will strive to be there again during 2015.

The club is part of the More Sheep initiative, an industry-wide collaboration between the Department of Agriculture and Food WA and the Sheep Industry Leadership Council to build the WA sheep flock.

The club is open to sheep producers who run a minimum flock of 500 ewes and have reached 100 per cent lamb marking across the entire breeding flock (excluding ewe lambs) for the season, irrespective of breed. Nominations for the 2014 season close on February 28.

The Evanses moved to WA from New Zealand six years ago to manage the Williams-based 5900ha mixed farming Cadogan Estates property, which includes 12,000 Merino breeding ewes.

In 2014, they achieved 102 per cent lambing, down from 108 per cent the previous year.

Although this means they qualify for the 100%+ Club in 2014, Mr Evans wants to do even better during 2015.

"The lower lambing was due to the maiden fleet letting us down last year," he said.

"This year we plan to get that up again."

Mr Evans expects a timing change in the annual wool harvest - partly to slot in better with the grain harvest program - should lead to better lambing outcomes.

"Our shearing has traditionally been during mid-February, but we have moved that just last year to November and early December," he said.

"So all the wool is off and we expect quite a lift out of the improved body condition, which will be good for lambing."

Mr Evans said maintaining general condition and health in ewes all year round was critical to higher lambing percentages.

"Pregnancy scanning is a big one for us as we can pick our twinners," he said.

"I then mark them and twinners are kept in a separate paddock and get preferential treatment."

Twinning has risen from 24 per cent in 2012 to 34 per cent in 2014.

Until last year, Mr Evans was crossing all ewes with Merino rams, sourced from Hyfield and Sunny Valley. However, last year he introduced Suffolk and Ile De France rams to cross with 2000 of the 12,000 breeding ewes (a combination of two and four-tooth ewes).

"There is a better dollar in the prime lambs, so we decided to take advantage of this market," he said.

The Suffolk and Ile De France rams went out to ewes on December 10 for 2.5 cycles, with lambing scheduled for May 8.

Merino rams went out with ewes from January 7 for two cycles, with lambing expected June 1.

Mr Evans said one ram to 100 ewes was preferred, but they may use a higher number of rams among maiden breeding stock.

Although the family runs a sizeable Merino flock, Mr Evans said it was difficult to be enthusiastic about the future of the wool industry.

"I don't think better times lie ahead as there are too many substitutes for wool," he said. "The wool industry here really needs a shake-up if prices are to improve."

Mr Evans, who will put himself forward for inclusion in the 100%+ Club for 2014, said a major benefit was the networking opportunities and chance to share information with other breeders.

2014 nominations *

Sheep producers who achieved outstanding lambing rates in 2014 are reminded to nominate for the 100%+ Club initiative before February 28.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA development officer Katherine Davies said producers achieving a whole-farm average marking percentage of more than 100 per cent were eligible.

"In WA, about 500 producers each year achieve marking rates of more than 100 per cent, including 6 per cent of the State's Merino producers," she said.

She said the club provided an opportunity for producers to network and share expertise.

Nomination forms are available at agric.wa.gov.au or by emailing katherine.davies@agric.wa.gov .au.

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