View from my verandah: Clare Peltzer

13 November 2015

The decision to take a break from teaching and come home to her family’s Tasmanian farm has reignited Clare Peltzer’s passion for agriculture. She now helps manage a 3,600ha mixed farming enterprise at Evandale, near Launceston, with her father Michael and younger brother Angus.

Why did you return to the farm? I intended to come back for just 2015 while my brother travelled around Australia with his fiancée, but I recently decided to resign from my job as a secondary science and agriculture teacher in Albury, NSW, to stay on the farm – I love the Tassie lifestyle and the farming!

Take us through your business: Around 10 years ago, we crossed our Saxon Merino ewes with Border Leicester rams, then joined these first-cross ewes to composite rams to establish a self-replacing flock. We keep around 1,000 ewes as maidens and sell our older ewes. Our main enterprise of prime lambs is supplemented with beef cattle and cash crops. Last year we forward contracted 7,000 lambs to supermarkets at an average live weight of 47kg. We have 987ha improved pastures and the ability to irrigate 620ha of cash crops and forage crops to finish lambs.

How is the business evolving? We are currently destocking our cattle due to climatic conditions as they are putting too much pressure on our precious feed – we need to prioritise pastures to finish lambs and maintain ewe condition. Our main focus for the future will be to grow more grass, as we believe that producers are ultimately converting grass into live weight, and therefore income. With this in mind, we aim to calculate food on offer (FOO) for our stock and alter paddock size and mob size and subdivide pivots to increase live weight.

Have you seen any changes to the business since you returned? I’m fortunate that dad is a really welcoming and flexible boss who is very open to any new ideas Angus and I put forward. We scanned the whole flock for the first time this year despite the initial cost as he recognised that it would benefit both the pastures and stock.

What does this mean for your business? Scanning gave us the opportunity to identify and sell dry ewes which was critical coming into a tough season. We want to lift productivity by increasing twins, so scanning provided information to guide ewe management. We separated ewes into maiden, twin and single mobs for priority management and to ensure that the twins had plenty of feed. We reduced flock size for maidens and twinning ewes, for example we ran 200 maidens or 400 twinning ewes per paddock compared to 700 singles. We are also careful not to disturb ewes, especially maidens and twinning ewes, to prevent mismothering.

How is the season shaping up? It is a 750mm rainfall area but we have only received a small proportion of our annual average. We received just 0.9mm in October – until now, the lowest rainfall on record for that month was 9mm. We usually get good run-off rain in September to fill the three dams (2,200ML total capacity) which gravity-feed our irrigation. However, there was no run-off rain this year and our dams are as low now as they were at the end of last summer.

How are you managing this water issue? Our focus is to get pastures and forage crops established before evaporation becomes an issue. We have allocated enough water to irrigate two pivots of white clover seed and one pivot of forage brassica and are just lightly irrigating another pivot of clover for weaning our lambs onto.

What does this season mean for the direction of your business? In September, we attended a Tackling Tough Seasons workshop run by Macquarie Franklin and sponsored by MLA and Roberts Limited. We heard from another Tasmanian producer who has adapted his business to manage seasonal variability by selling lambs as stores straight after weaning. Effectively managing our pasture resource to optimise production is crucial, especially in a tough season like this, so we are now looking at changing our marketing focus to sell lambs  straight off  the ewe and onto a truck to free up feed to get ewes back to a condition score 3 so they reconceive. This choice has come with its own economic difficulties; however, we know that we need to focus on next year’s progeny.

How will this impact your management program? We usually lamb in August and sell from January through to March/April. However, this year we will wean the heavier lambs in November and December, straight onto the truck as stores. We will take the remainder through to 47kg. We shear at the end of November which gives us four months to get ewes back to joining condition by March. With less FOO this year, we are supplementary feeding the ewes and lambs on barley to compensate and the liveweight gains are positive.

What tools and resources do you use to guide on-farm decision making?We introduced condition scoring following a Lifetime Wool Ewe Management course.
I went to a Lamb Survival Workshop run by Making More From Sheep and Sheep Connect Tasmania  in September, which examined some of the causes of lamb mortality and the importance of ewe nutrition to maximise lamb survival

In September, I received a Woolworths Agribusiness Scholarship. I attended a two week course in Sydney and learned about all aspects of the supply chain from the producer to the consumer. This reinforced the importance of building supply chain relationships.

We are going to start Pasture Principles next year (run by Macquarie Franklin) so I’m interested in learning how to feed budget and improve how we manage our grazing.

Information: Clare Peltzer E: clarepeltzer@gmail.com

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