Dohnes prove a winner in broad acre cropping mix

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Justin uses RamSelect to rank sale rams on the Dohne database according to his customized breeding objectives.

The combined carcass and wool value of Dohnes is proving the goods in a vertically integrated broadacre cropping operation in northern NSW.

The O’Brien family, of Walgett, value add their cereal and pulse crops through an on-farm sheep feedlot, turning off up to 8000 Dohne mixed sex lambs a year to the domestic and export markets.

The lambs are produced by the family’s 4000 Dohne ewe flock and also sourced from other regional commercial purebred flocks.

The lambs have a week’s induction in the 3500-head capacity feedlot on a barley, faba bean and pellet ration then move onto self feeders with 75 per cent barley, 20 per cent faba beans and five per cent pellets.

Average daily liveweight gains are 280-300 grams to give a net feed conversion of one kilogram of body weight to four kilograms of grain consumed.

Lambs enter at 35kg liveweight for an eight week feeding period, while lambs 40kg plus are fed four to six weeks, with exit liveweights at 50kg.

The last consignment of 493 Dohne lambs were sold to Thomas Foods International, Tamworth, in May for $5.40/kg dressed at an average liveweight of 55kg.

The average carcase weight was 25.9kg and the average value including skins of $17 was $156.

Dennis and wife Trish, with sons Justin and Sam, run the 11,336ha Cryon Station on a mix of 75 per cent cropping and 25 per cent sheep.

Set in a 500mm rainfall zone, the aggregation consists of black soils running into red clays.

The dryland crops grown are wheat, barley, canola, faba beans and chickpeas.

The O’Briens will host a field day on lotfeeding lambs on July 22 with Geoff Duddy, Sheep Solutions, Yanco, NSW, as the facilitator.

“The last lot of lambs yielded 47 per cent and we use that feedback to fine tune the feeding program,’’ Justin said.

“We know if it is a 55kg lamb at exit it will dress at 25.5kg.

“We never had any problems with fat cover – they are a leaner animal with less wastage for the butcher.’’

Dennis is a second generation wool grower, and began running Merinos in 1972, selling 10,000 wethers a year as wool cutters to the NSW tablelands and New England.

The reserve price scheme contributed to his decision to switch to grain growing.

The family now has a 20,000 tonne grain storage complex for on-farm warehousing of faba beans and chickpeas.

“In recent years, lamb and mutton haven’t been too bad, they have kept up with inflation, it hasn’t been over supplied and has been consistent,’’ Dennis said.

‘With high end markets growing all the time in Japan and the US, I was looking around for a dual purpose, self-replacing sheep.’’

A Dohne field day at Cryon Station in 2004 convinced Dennis to invest in 10 Dohne rams the following year.

They were joined to 3000 Merino ewes averaging 21 micron and cutting 5.5kg.

“We wanted the carcase but also wool just in case the wool market did improve,’’ Dennis said.

“It was a business decision to pursue the meat market, and it’s been a good one.

“The Dohnes are easy to manage, are high fertility, do well in the feedlot and yield well.’’

Today, the self-replacing flock comprises 4000 purebred Dohne ewes, averaging 19.8 micron and cutting 4.5kg, and 1800-2000 ewe weaners.

Dennis said the Dohne infusion had increased fertility, lifting lambing percentages to above 100.

Maiden ewes are classed at 50 per cent with cull ewes grain fed for the domestic and export markets.

Ewes are joined from December 1 for an April-May lambing to enable the family to target the strong winter market before the lambs cut their teeth.

Justin uses RamSelect to rank sale rams on the Dohne database according to his customized breeding objectives.

Under RamSelect, emphasis is placed on traits important to an individual’s business.

Justin uses an economic weighting on growth, carcass weight, eye muscle depth and fleece weight, in conjunction with visual appraisal.

A ram which was born as a twin is preferred.

Rams and ewes are supplementary fed faba beans at joining to maintain body condition.

Ewes pregnancy scanned at 90 per cent this year with 60 per cent being multi-bearing and 40 per cent singles. Any dry maiden ewes were rejoined again.

“We will be incorporating a feeding program for the multiples before they give birth so we can look after those twins and triplets.

“If the ewes are fat score 3.5, up to 80 per cent of twins will survive – that will shift our weaning percentages from 90 to 120.

“Another 20 per cent of 4000 is an additional 600 lambs valued at $150 each so it is worthwhile spending $10 a head to feed those ewes at late pregnancy to achieve that.’’

Lamb marking is season dependent with the weaners shorn in October and grazed on faba beans, chickpeas and barley stubbles before feedlot entry.

A six monthly shearing interval is under evaluation to reduce vegetable matter.

“The sheep won’t be focused on growing wool, fertility will lift, we will potentially have more wool and shearing costs will be reduced,’’ Justin said.

The flock has not been mulesed since 2012, with the wool sold on the physical market.

The last consignment averaged 19.8 micron at $1340 a bale.

“We are going to stick with the Dohnes as we are on a winner,’’ Dennis said.

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