A sheep-filled afternoon with JBS

The second set of afternoons sessions at the JBS Southern Producer Forums involved insightful, short and sharp twenty minute small-group rotations through a range of topics — from grass seed management to genetic selection.

Hamish Chandler, Manager at Sheep Genetics, has extensive genetics knowledge and also runs a superfine Merino flock in Armidale. Chandler reminded us that there are things we see on Ram sale day that won’t impact the performance of the lambs they sire — i.e. they are a result of environmental factors, not genetic. These factors include age (which can provide a marked difference in size and weight of a ram on sale day), whether he was born a single or a twin, the age of his dam, and the amount of feed he has been on pre-sale.

Chandler reminded us to concentrate on the ram's heritable  traits — the portion of his traits we see/or don't see that are a result of his genetic makeup because of his genes. ASBCs provide a genetic benchmarking tool whereby we can judge a ram against the industry average. They enable us to rank the ram for the genes he is carrying, rather than how fat, heavy and glossy he looks on sale day.

To use ASBVs effectively, Chandler noted that we need to understand the traits that drive our income, and we must choose to take home rams that carry the traits we want to change or improve, which can directly influence our net profitability.

Chandler suggested the key profit drivers in a terminal sire are: growth rates, moderate birth rate, more muscle to match higher growth rates, and matching fat breeding values to the amount of finish you want on your lambs (i.e. merino ewes might need more fatter rams, however if you are marketing a heavier export lamb, you might want leaner figures).

There is no point busting ourselves to produce more lamb if the consumer doesn’t want it, Chandler reminded. Until now, we haven’t had a way of assessing what our changes on farm are doing for the consumer opinion of the lamb we produce. But now, we have the capacity to look directly at lean meat yield and dressing percentage, sheer force and intramuscular fat through RBVs. Chandler noted that a lot of this information is predetermined when we are buying rams and we now have the capacity to select for these values at the point of sale.

Patrick Hutchinson, from Blue Sky Agriculture, delivered a practical session on “Winning Against Seeds”. He opened by reminding us that grass-seeds are not just a carcass issue, but can have severe animal health and welfare issues, as well as production and processing losses and inefficiencies.

Hutchinson stated that those producers than win against grass seeds are the ones that know when and where it occurs, obtain feedback from processors and review and change their management procedures as a result.

A number of options are available to combat seeds, including genetic selection, strategic grazing, targeted marketing (producers selling at a restocker level if they think there will be an impact of seeds if they graze further), feedlotting, and shearing prior to seed set.

Time of shearing is perhaps the most widely used management option, but it is not the “be all – end all”, stated Hutchinson. Agronomic options, including winter cleaning of pastures, spray topping/grazing, pasture improvement, fodder crops and conservation, can also be reviewed.

I have had the pleasure of listening to Dr. Jason Trompf, from JT Agri-Source, speak before, and it was wonderful to hear him deliver his mini “More Lambs, More Profit” session. Jason admitted it was nice to have a day focused at looking at the end product, but noted that getting our eye back on the main game at the farm-level was incredibly important — and to play the game well, a lot of attention to detail was required. 

Jason shared that the farms making more profit are consistently running higher stocking rates, resulting in 15-20% higher lamb production per hectare.

Jason ran us through the five key elements of successful lamb production — “Lambs Alive, do the 5”. This system included:

  1. Measure to Manage (scanning and feed allocation are driving the best marking rates)
  2. Fed Well (measuring fuel gauge on ewe and proactively manage ewe to next condition score)
  3. Adapt Well (managing the volatility and variability in our pasture by setting up more flexible strategies)
  4. Bred Well (getting on the genetics express!)
  5. Lamb Well (protecting “the nursery”, i.e. not ploughing through the paddock in the ute in the morning as it takes 6hrs for a lamb and mother to bond).

The formal part of the day finished up and now it is time to grab a quick drink before the evening function tonight. I quickly asked Dad about the beef sessions run this afternoon and it appears the sheep side of things was the right choice!

Thanks to JBS for an insightful day and I look forward to catching up with some people tonight to hear about the morning session.