Bradfords on road to easycare

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Bob GarnantCountryman
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Seven years in the making, Dorper/Poll Dorset-cross shedding sheep are now a valid option for lamb producers, according to Hillcroft Farms breeder Dawson Bradford.

With a goal of reducing labour and hence the cost of production in his family's commercial sheep enterprise, in 2005, Mr Bradford set about breeding the wool off part of his pure Poll Dorset flock.

"I figured we could save at least 25 per cent of all sheep-related farm costs by eliminating shearing, crutching, jetting, chasing fly-blown sheep and mustering - many labour-intensive operations," he said. "We refer to our shear-less sheep as 'easycare'."

Mr Bradford and his wife, Greta, and their son, Dawson, and his wife, Lisa, run a diverse farming program, including commercial and stud sheep, a 600-sow piggery and a variety of crops on their 4166-hectare (10,000-acre) property based at Popanyinning, 160km south-east of Perth.

Any efficiency in labour saving and time management is another step towards improving farm net income.

The Bradfords are using the easycare rams to breed the wool off their 4500 self-replacing commercial prime lamb flock.

They also supply these rams to a growing number of lamb-producing clients who wish to do the same.

"Initially we thought the F1 cross (50:50) ram would be sufficient, however, from experience over the last few years, we are now confident that a 3/4 Dorper/ 1/4 Poll Dorset cross is the appropriate ram to produce a highly-productive self-replacing shedding flock," Mr Bradford said.

"During the drought from 2010 to 2011 it was quite noticeable that the sheep carrying this balance of infusion of the two breeds had the extra hardiness to handle the extreme conditions and still perform at high levels."

Mr Bradford, who has been breeding Poll Dorset stud sheep for more than 50 years, said that by crossing the best of both breeds he had created a profitable and easycare shedding sheep that performed well under a wide range of conditions.

"What we lose in wool income will be easily gained in fertility and easycare," he said.

The Dorper, which is renowned for ease of birthing attributed to lower birth weights, has also good carcase conformation that is ideal for the trade.

With limited options for producing an ultimate shedder, there were some obstacles to work with in the creation of a suitable cross able to breed self-replacement maternal sheep.

Mr Bradford said that while the Dorper was considered a slow grower, it was very hardy and ideal for pastoral conditions, late summers or drought conditions.

There was also room for an improved sheep to take advantage of the better conditions in agricultural areas.

"The infusion of Poll Dorset genetics has greatly increased the growth rates of the easycare progeny," he said.

The easycare progeny are gaining up to 500g a day and are dressing up to 22kg at 100 days under good conditions.

Hillcroft Farms has produced many trait leaders in the Poll Dorset breed, which many prime lamb breeders from around the country and the world have pursued.

The Bradfords' Poll Dorset flock has taken part in Lambplan since 1990.

The Poll Dorset nucleus flock still stands at 700 ewes, while the easycare nucleus flock has 1500 ewes.

"We will continue to measure our sheep against industry benchmarks as we push for better performance," Mr Bradford said.

He said the growth rate or the post weaning weight (PWWT) breeding value of the easycare was rising each year through rigorous selection and would continue with emphasis on muscling and fertility as well as shedding.

A work in process is to introduce a gene found in New Zealand Romney sheep to boost fertility.

"This is the Inverdale gene which has the ability to lift lambing percentages by up to 40 per cent under normal paddock conditions which, when added to our current performance of 130 to 140 per cent, will give a very productive enterprise," Mr Bradford said.

After many years of selection, progeny from the Hillcroft Farms nucleus containing the Inverdale gene are expected to be available for sale in the next two to three years.

The Bradfords will have more than 100 easycare shedding rams available for auction and private sales this year.

All easycare rams are presented unshorn since birth to allow buyers to see that they are buying genuine shedding rams.

Hillcroft Farms' annual on-property production sale is on October 9.

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