View from my verandah: James and Emma Baldry

20 May 2016

James and Emma Baldry and their young family operate a mixed enterprise at Wallendbeen on the south-western slopes of southern NSW. They have developed the property, which has been in the family since the 1840s, to run a productive Merino-cross prime lamb enterprise complemented by a grain and graze cropping program. The Baldrys recently opened their gate to an MLA delegation of US chefs, food writers and restauranteurs to showcase pasture-based red meat production.

Take us on a walk through your business: The home property is 870ha and we lease an additional 700ha. Our livestock focus is prime lambs, although we do trade cattle in response to seasonal and marketing opportunities. We run 3,600 Merino-based ewes, joined to Dorset and Dohne rams. We target a lambing rate of 115%, to produce approximately 2,600 Dorset-cross lambs in spring and 1,600 Dohne-cross lambs in autumn and spring lambings.

Why have you selected this breed composition? The Dohne-cross component provides replacement females while still enabling an efficient meat/wool flock and earlier lamb turn-off and joining age compared to a pure Merino flock. We wanted to shorten the generational gap, down from the traditional two years in Merinos, to be more competitive with cross-bred lamb enterprises. Our wool clip will take a bit of a hit, but this will be more than compensated by kilograms of lamb produced each year. Joining Dorset rams to 55% of our ewes maximises the maximum number of crossbred lambs while still retaining a self-replacing flock.

What are your marketing targets? Lambs under 50kg liveweight are directed to the domestic supermarket trade, and lambs over 50kg are destined for the export market through JBS, ALC and the Manildra Meat Company.

How have you focused your business to reach market specifications? Livestock health is at the foremost for us, as a healthy ewe is a productive ewe. We maintain a low worm environment using crop stubbles and grazing crops, plus a drench and vaccination regime backed by good record keeping. Producing the right product is important for market compliance, so we weigh samples of each mob to monitor growth rates and turn-off weights. This involves weighing 10-15% of lambs on a three-to-four week basis, to save time and reduce stress from excess handling.

How do trade stock fit into your management program? We buy in 800-1,000 Merino lambs and/or 100-plus weaners to supplement our own lambs on the grazing crops. We are trading Angus and Angus-cross cattle at the moment as there are opportunities with processors, including the Manildra Meat Company’s grassfed program.

How does cropping complement the livestock? We crop 40-45% of the property – two-thirds conventional wheat and canola and a third grazing varieties. We have grazed oats since the 1960s and wheat since the 1980s but after seeing the results from grazing canola in the area and on the advice of our agronomist we introduced it into the program four years ago. We grow two Clearfield® canola varieties (971 and 970) at the moment.

What is your annual grain and graze program? We sow grazing canola in February and after germination it can survive hot weather until the autumn break. We start grazing in early April. A stocking rate of 20 lambs/ha, together with weight gains of 2kg/week, make this a very attractive proposition. We monitor crops to retain leaf area at the base of the plant and destock in July to give canola time to recover before harvest. The grazing canola does take a yield hit (1.8-2.2tonnes/ha compared to 2.2-2.6tonnes/ha with conventional canola) however, the weight gains we achieve far outweighs yield reductions. Grazing wheat varieties are sown in mid-March and can usually be grazed from mid-May until early August.

What are the results from grazing canola? Our main lambing is in spring (all Dorset-cross lambs and half the Dohne-cross portion). A third of these lambs are sold before April, when the remainder go onto the canola. We introduced autumn lambing with half the Dohne-cross flock two years ago to increase production. After these autumn-drop lambs are marked, they may run on the canola with their mothers in May-June. We market the Dohne-cross wethers by the end of the year, and join the ewe lambs the following March when they are 12-months-old. We hope for 80% conception and 90% lambing from scanned ewe lambs. The August lambs are joined the following October, aged 14 months.

How do you manage other pastures? The conventional crops will always have a role in our business as this is a productive cropping region, and the summer stubbles play an important part in our stock program as an opportunity to spell pastures. The majority of our non-cropping paddocks are improved with phalaris and lucerne based pastures. We have some native grasses on leased land and have aerial sown them with clover. We take a total farm approach to our grain and graze programs and hope to sow fodder crops on some unimproved paddocks before they are sown to perennial grasses.

What’s happening on-farm this time of year? This is a 700mm annual rainfall area, but the autumn break can be unreliable. We finally received 60mm on 7-8 May on the back of 15mm the weekend before. This means we can start sowing our main season wheat as soon as it dries out a bit. We're also preparing to market some Dorset-cross lambs domestically. We recently bought in Merino weathers so we will put them on the grazing canola as soon as possible.

What did hosting the US tour involve? The Manildra Meat Company (based at nearby Cootamundra) exports product to the US, so it was interesting to meet the people who could influence how our lamb is cooked and presented to consumers. The US chefs, restauranteurs and food writers were really interested in natural, grass-based livestock production. We showed them newborn lambs, lambs that were ready to be sent off, established grazing canola and newly planted pastures so they had the chance to see the whole production system.

Did you learn anything from the US visitors? They explained how US consumers have environmentally-based expectations and associate a grass-based production system with sustainability and health benefits. It was interesting to learn how lower-value cuts of meat, such as shanks and necks, value-added products such as lamb rissoles, and ethnic cuisine are driving renewed interest in lamb in the US.

What is on the horizon for your business? I would like to ramp up our grazing focus to half the cropping area, to create more opportunities for trading livestock.

More information: James Baldry E: james.baldry1@bigpond.com

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