Merinos beating crops, crossbreds at Edillilie

LOWER Eyre Peninsula farmer Rob Parsons can well back-up his strong faith in the Australian Merino.

Rob and his wife, Sue, and their son, Daniel, operate the 810-hectare ‘Wandillilie’ property near Edillilie. They previously had land at Wanilla as well as Edillilie, hence the farm name.

They crop about two-thirds of the property to wheat, barley and canola, as well as lupins and beans for sheep feed, while barley or oats are also sown down with sub clovers and balansa clover for grazing feed.

The Parsons run 500 breeding ewes and 200 ewe hoggets.

“These days some people are now 100 per cent cropping, but I like my sheep,’’ Rob said.

“During winter we run about 650 lambs out of the 500 ewes, and the wether lambs are a good meat sheep.

“We run 1400-1500 sheep over four paddocks.’’

He said comparing the profits to cropping today, the Merino is probably in front.

“And all we do is tail, crutch, shear and drench – that’s it. We don’t have a lot of flies here.’’

“They are fairly easy-care and being Merinos they don’t get out of the paddocks as much (as crossbred sheep).

“It’s pretty exciting to get up to $170 (per head) for lamb, the wool, and the sale of old ewes and their wool, so it’s way above crossbreds.

“The price of wheat is pretty ordinary. Currently, the sheep are keeping me farming again. I can bank on getting a solid income from the sheep every year. They are out there earning money for you – and you don’t burn up diesel running them.’’

The ‘Wandillilie’ flock has been based on the popular White River genetics from Minnipa for about 30 years.

“I like the wool and as big, plain-bodied sheep, they are doing well with the meat,’’ Rob said.

Ewes are joined in November for an April lambing and go onto wheat and barley stubbles.

Rob said when selecting sires, he paid attention to rams that were a twin and he ensured the ewes were fed what they wanted, helping underpin a strong lambing percentage of 110-130pc.

“The ewes are fed hay and grain right through lambing until weaning – they get what they want. We keep them to a body weight.’’

“Some years with a tight winter it can get a bit hard, but then we will feed them more.

“We have two mobs of 250 ewes and we get at least 300 lambs for each mob.’’

Lambs are tailed in June-July and while they have been weaned as young as eight weeks of age, it is generally at 12-13 weeks. They go onto sown wheat or barley through until harvest and then onto legume stubbles. They are also fed lupins/barley or lupins/oats and some hay for about one month.

In spring, when paddocks start to “puff out’’, the Parsons select the wether lambs for the meat trade, where they are assisted by Dennis Bronca of Quality Livestock.

“We try to push out about 450, although last year we sold 200 at three months of age for $80 a head. We would have liked to carry them through, but we were tight with our paddock rotation,’’ Rob said.

“We work it out together with Dennis and look at what the season is doing. He is a brilliant stock man and he knows the meat trade – I leave him to do it for me. He will work it out and won’t sell stock if they are not ready. He knows his game – he will ring if the lambs are ready and the price is peaking. And we work things out months before on when the market will peak.

“He is top shelf and he knows cattle and crossbreds even more. I taught him about Merinos and he taught me about the meat trade,’’ Rob quipped.

The meat lambs sell to Thomas Foods at Murray Bridge, while other young lambs sell to restockers.

About 180-200 older ewes (four years of age) are sold in October, achieving $100-$150 a head.

“They still have plenty of life for the crossie trade and good 21-micron wool,’’ Rob said.

He said a few years ago Dennis urged them to sell 200-300 sheep on AuctionsPlus and, after he came out to take photos and compile the information, they sold extremely quickly to a grazier south of Port Lincoln.

“It’s way better off selling on the place.’’

About 700 full wool sheep and the 600 lambs are shorn in September-October and local Quality Wool marketing representative, Ben Price, supports the Parsons with the sale of their wool at auction.

“We generally sell the wool at the end of October, but we also like the early November sale,’’ Rob said.

“The ewes produce 21-22 micron wool and the hoggets 19-20 microns. We average in the high 900s (cents per kilogram), with spikes over 1100 (c/kg).

“Quality are massive over here now in livestock and wool,’’ he said.