View from my verandah: Rodney Watt

20 November 2015

Rodney Watt runs Felix Rams, a 500ha cropping and seedstock enterprise at Greenethorpe, NSW, in partnership with his wife, Elizabeth, and mother Valerie. They produce Poll Dorset and White Suffolk terminal rams for local and interstate prime lamb breeders. Rodney is also gearing up for the next  Australian lamb expo, LambEx 2016, in his role as chairman of the event.

What challenges do you face in your enterprise, and how are you tackling them? Our enterprise is 50% cropping, 50% sheep (land use) and, like many mixed farming businesses, it can be a challenge to get the balance right. I believe we have developed a complementary business, where we can graze stubble and dual-purpose crops. The two enterprises provide resilience and flexibility, but I am continually revaluating to ensure they remain productive, profitable and sustainable. I want to find a consultant for the sheep enterprise who can really drill down and help us analyse and benchmark our business.

What about the opportunities? I am a self-learner and enjoy the challenge of analysing our production figures. I believe record keeping should not be for the sake of it, but has to guide decision making. We have used EID (electronic identification) tags since 2011 for data collection and genetic selection and the next step will be to integrate auto-drafting to manage stock. EID has revolutionised the way we handle data and use information in the yards.

What are your production targets? We aim for 180% conception; and of these lambs conceived, we aim to wean 90%. Multiples are important to our business – our long term goal is to wean 100kg of lamb/ewe at 100 days old, and this is only possible with twins and triplets. We join for five weeks in single sire groups (from 20 January), take rams out for three weeks, and then put them back in for four weeks – this is also when ewe lambs are joined. We joined 750 stud ewes this year plus 260 ewe lambs (with 60% of these getting in lamb) and tagged 1,401 lambs. We sold 370 rams this year, aiming to increase this to 400 rams/year.

We DNA test all sires and 15% of ram lambs for eating quality traits of intramuscular fat and shear force. In 2015, every joining decision we made had an eating quality consideration to ensure we are producing a balance between production and carcase traits and consumer traits.

Surplus lambs are sold as prime lambs at 30kg cwt, but this year we will sell them at 22-26kg, due to the dry finish, higher lambing percentage and the economics of grain finishing.

Through selection with worm egg count ASBVs (Australian Sheep Breeding Values) and the use of mob worm counts we have reduced drenching. Our goal is to only drench lambs once at most. Our breeding ewes have only required one drench in the last three years.

What is happening on-farm this month? We are weaning the spring drop lambs this week. We collect a lot of data for ASBVs so we will be weighing these lambs and taking individual worm counts and scanning the winter drop lambs for muscle and fat. We are also gearing up for harvest, which begins with canola this week.

How is the season shaping up? The last two months have been dry so we were planning for a long El Nino summer, but we received 80mm in the first two weeks of November. It will be great for lucerne growth and lamb growth and to get ewes back into condition before joining in late January.

What are some of the tools/resources you use in your business?

  • Lifetime Ewe Management reinforced the importance of having ewes in the right condition at joining. By aligning the production cycle with feed availability we aim for a CS 4 (condition score 4) or better at joining, and to achieve 180% at marking and 160% lambs at weaning.
  • Long-term grazing management records to balance stocking rates based on seasonal conditions. Every time I am in the paddock I assess feed quality and availability and stock condition.

LambEx 2016 is at Albury on 10-12 August 2016 – can you give us an insight into the event? We want to challenge people about the industry and where it is headed in the next 10-20 years. We want to look at if the industry is producing the right lambs from consumer, producer and processor perspectives. We want to challenge the industry to not be complacent, to use feedback and communication to drive the supply chain, to be flexible to manage marketing and climate variability.

More information:

Rodney Watt E: rodney@felixrams.com

www.lambex.com.au

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