Improved season helps to rebuild sheep numbers

SHEARING up to five times in a season, having access to a knowledgeable and reliable source in the wool industry is paramount for Barry Hinchcliffe, farm manager at ‘Ascot Park’ in Victoria’s North East.

Barry has managed the property, which is located midway between Shepparton and Nathalia, for more than 30 years.

‘Ascot Park’ comprises 1943 hectares and is owned by Peter Ryan, Ryan Meat Company, Nathalia.

Barry is responsible for cropping about 825ha as well as running 2300 ewes and a feedlot for the lambs.

The winter cropping program includes canola, wheat, barley and oats, while summer crops can range from sorghum to poppies, teff and soybeans grown over 466ha of irrigated land.

The sheep operation is based on crossbred lamb production, whereby Merino ewes are joined to Border Leicester sires to produce first cross lambs, with the first cross ewes then mated to Poll Dorsets.

“We’ve lambed our last mob of Merino ewes this season, so we’ll be hoping to get some more, young Merino ewes in. Hopefully they won’t be too difficult to source,” Barry said.

“We had dropped our overall sheep numbers by about 1000 head because it has been a bit dry in the last few seasons, but we haven’t managed to build our numbers back up again yet.”

There are generally two lambing periods at ‘Ascot Park’, with the main one occurring mid-April.

Barry said after initial pregnancy scans of joined ewes, the dry ewes were put back with the rams along with the maiden ewes in order to give them the best shot at conceiving.

“We’re usually happy with 125-130 per cent lambing and we’re well on our way to getting that this year.”

“This season’s mid-April drop lambs have just been weaned and they have now gone into a paddock of feed wheat, which is up to their neck.

“It’s been a pretty good season so far. Last year we struggled a bit but, in those tough years we’ve got the irrigation as back-up for growing feed.”

The majority of lambs are finished in the property’s feedlot, before being sold to either the export market or supermarkets.

Barry said the lambs were put through for a minimum of eight weeks on a diet of Ridley pellets, to achieve the target weights of around 42-46 kilograms for supermarkets and 48kg plus for the export market.

Last year’s lambs were on the smaller side as a result of the season, but Barry said this year’s drop were already showing good potential and would have no trouble meeting weight targets.

The number of shearings varies on the property, as often additional stock are purchased on an opportunity-basis by Peter, so there can be up to five shearings in some seasons.

“The ewes have three different shearings. Usually we try to have them done close to lambing, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Barry said.

“There aren’t necessarily set times for shearing. I’ll generally ring our Quality Wool representative, Mark Amarant, and tell him what I’ve got and ask his opinion on whether we should shear or wait.

“He’ll tell me what he thinks and when we do start shearing, he’ll always come over and check things out.

“It’s certainly handy having him there.”

Barry said Mark had been working with Peter for about 20 years, so he had a well-rounded understanding of the business.

They produce an average of 150 bales each year at ‘Ascot Park’, at an average of 26-27 micron, with all wool sold via auction after being carted by Quality Wool.

“Mark picks the wool up and puts it straight into the auction. It’s very convenient not having to worry about organising trucks,” Barry said.

“It’s a good working relationship and he keeps us well informed so we can make the best decisions for the business.”