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Fertility strategy paying off

Melissa WilliamsCountryman

Like many WA sheep producers, York farmers Laurie and Jenny Fairclough have observed a high number of twins born to their 6800 ewe breeding flock this winter.

The couple expects this will help to significantly boost average marking rates to about 94 per cent.

Driven by particularly good seasonal conditions in the lead-up to joining, ewes were in good order and well set up for this year's lambing cycle, according to Laurie who also farms with sons Brenton and Justin.

Laurie said efforts to improve flock fertility and get more lambs on the ground were paying off and if marking rates hit 94 per cent or higher, it would be a significant improvement from last year's level of 88 to 90 per cent.

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The Faircloughs this year mated about 5800 Merino ewes to Poll Dorset and White Suffolk rams for prime lamb production and about 1000 Merino ewes to Merino sires to build-up breeder numbers.

Laurie said about 25 per cent of ewes had to be sold off in 2010 due to poor seasonal conditions and since then the family had been breeding up replacement stock and concentrating on genetic and management strategies to lift reproductive performance.

"We think we will be back at pre-2010 sheep numbers this financial year, which is also partly because we have leased another farm," he said.

"We are committed to producing sheep because we enjoy breeding and turning off quality lambs and because some of our land is only suited to livestock production."

Stud ewes started lambing on the Faircloughs' property in April and commercial ewes in mid-May.

Lambs will be sold as suckers at 18 to 22kg dressed weight to processors and for export and a recent month-long dry spell means the family is still hand feeding their sheep. Laurie said he expected the lamb market in spring would continue to suffer from a downturn in market conditions but hoped prices would not fall too much.

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