Flexibility at heart of strategy

Kate MatthewsCountryman

To chase profit, Bernie and Gerry Rhodes keep their sheep and cropping mix flexible.

At present, the focus is tilted towards sheep. They have 1700 Merino ewes mated to Merinos and 300 to Poll Dorsets.

"Next year, we will probably go all Merino to boost numbers, because I've been selling too many sheep - but it's been lucrative," Bernie said.

Normally, culled ewes and crossbred lambs are sold, while the Merino lambs are run through to 1.5 years old, then shorn and sold as shippers.

A decade ago, the wethers were run in two age groups, but low wool prices prompted Bernie to change his management strategy.

For the past three years, the change has allowed him to capitalise on strong meat prices.

Bernie has also switched genetics from Merino to Poll Merinos. "We are trying to get a multipurpose sheep with a bit more meat that's low maintenance and plainer bodied," he said.

Rams from Hyfield are used to breed flock rams with advice from sheep consultant Kevin Broad.

When selecting rams, Bernie aims to retain good wools and have saleable meat sheep or shippers. "We are chasing sheep that are free-growing and early maturing," he said.

Lambs are weaned in early August after a May drop and ewes and hoggets are shorn in September.

The 1.5-year-old wether hoggets averaged 17.1 micron this year, cutting 4kg.

Wool is marketed throughout the year and some is sold in spring.

For the first time in his farming career, Bernie hand fed his sheep from October last year to August.

"I probably spent $40 per head and fed out 110 tonnes of pellets, which really saved us when lambing, as well as 95t of lupins and roughly 150t of oats and feed barley," he said.

The lupins and pellets were purchased and the remainder were already stored on farm. "It was worth it because of the return on sheep and wool," Bernie said. "We sold our wether hoggets for $110 the other day as shippers delivered."

He is now aiming to increase the ewe flock, depending on cropping.

This year's cropping program is an equal split between Wandering oats, Westonia wheat and Vlamingh barley.

"The wheat is finishing off nicely with a mild finish," Bernie said.

"All of our crops are looking pretty good."

At this stage, he estimates they will yield above average.

Oats were first sown on May 24, followed by barley on May 31 and wheat on June 6.

Bernie used 80kg of MAP and 80kg of urea on his wheat and 80kg of MAP and 65kg of urea on his oats and barley.

Recorded rainfall for the growing season until last Thursday was 279mm, compared with 163mm for the same period last year.

Fast facts *

_WHO: _ Bernie and Gerry Rhodes, Stoke Farm

_WHERE: _Highbury

_WHAT: _ 60 per cent sheep, 40 per cent cropping

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