The dry summer continues, but the kikuyu continues to recover after each grazing. However, it is only giving a green pick to the sheep and we are supplementary feeding with some grain and some hay, especially for the ewes that are now only weeks away from lambing. I'm hoping we have another hot and dry summer in the future so that I can compare something.
I've mentioned before how the better fed a summer crop, the more resilient they are to dry conditions. It is no different with kikuyu. If I had fertilised it in October last year, the kikuyu would be growing much better through this summer. Now that we are on track to reach our target ewe numbers by the end of the year, and therefore our income rises rapidly, the plan is to fertilise as often as is needed to keep as much feed growing ahead of the sheep. Despite the still very high fertiliser prices, it is still cheaper to grow the pasture than hand feeding the sheep. Much cheaper. We'll revisit this topic in future summers as the pastures will be under pressure with hopefully triple the number of sheep on this property.
We spread one truckload of lime last week on only two paddocks where the pH was still a little too low. The bad patch on Alpha paddock received another 6t/ha, taking the total now to 36t/ha since October 2018. Other small areas received 2t/ha. We now wait for rain and will spread a small amount of N in front of the rain, hopefully. It's always pot luck with summer rain. The forecast and satellite might show we are going to receive 20+mm of rain, but it could very easily miss our farm, or worse, only provide 5mm and we lose much of the nitrogen. Farming and playing the odds ! At the time of writing, there is nothing on the forecast horizon other than 1-2mm. Drizzle doesn't do much when the ground is hot and the sun shines soon after and dries it all up.
I've had some more interesting chit-chats with people who suggest we could do better if we lambed once a year because our lambs would grow faster and reach market weight sooner.
Let's think on this scenario. If we reduced our ewe numbers to 8/ha (similar to district average), and lambing to once per year, but we averaged 180% lambing (I don't think anyone achieves that around us), then we would produce ~14 lambs/ha. We have 185ha. 14 x 185ha would give 2,590 lambs/year.
I've mentioned our results last year, our first year lambing twice in 12 months. Starting from all the ewes in lamb and all the drys had been culled. One mob (woollies) averaged 120% lambing and the Cleanskins 123%. Half of all those ewes got straight back into lamb. The woollies averaged 120% again, and the Cleanskins 140%. A total of 240% for the woollies and 263% for the Cleanskins.
And out of all the dries that did not get back into lamb straight away, 95% of them got back into lamb and are about to lamb in a few weeks. Remember these dries last year did produce 120% or 123% lambs depending on if they were in the woollies or in the Cleanskin mobs. So we had a good result. I think a really good result considering it was our first attempt, the pastures have still lots of improvement, and our genetics are still a long way away from where I want them to be.
Though we are keeping some unwanted genetics on the farm whilst we are building our ewe numbers up as quickly as we can, we will increasingly be selecting ewes that continue to get back into lamb twice a year, and rams from those ewes. We are of course going to need more ram purchases, but where possible, we will be seeking rams that suit our system. We have purchased 450 straws of one ram that meets our criteria, but we will need more as we grow our numbers.
Our target is 30 ewes/ha. Going on others that have gone before us and are using this system, they average about 80-85% of the ewes lambing twice per year and average ~260% lambing. It works well for them, and it should for us too, in that they join the maiden ewe lambs whilst they are very young (5-7 months old) and only get about 20% of them into lamb. That's OK because they are the genetics they want and balances nicely with ~20% of the ewes being culled each year (dry ewes) and being replaced with ewe lambs that got into lamb at a very young age.
So, 30 ewes/ha x 260% lambing/year is a few more than 2,590 in the above hypothetical. My target is only 9,000 lambs/year on the 185ha, but as you can see, the potential is substantially higher than that. It will require continual selection of genetics that suit this system, and much improved pastures, and continuing improvements in management for all that to happen, but that's where we are heading.
Anyway, back to the point of lambs would grow faster if there are less ewes/ha and only lambing once per year. I just don't get that argument. I'd much rather sell 4 times the number of lambs that are sold at store weight (~35-40kg) than a quarter of the number at 45-50kg. It is kg meat per hectare that is important, not the kg meat per animal.
However, we have some genetics where the lambs do grow big very quickly even though their mum whilst providing them milk, have more lambs growing inside of her. There are genetics that can do this and over half of our ewes are doing this.
My argument comes back to this. Why settle for such a low stocking rate and lambs/ha when the environment, pastures, and genetics can enable us to produce 4-5 times the number of lambs? Australia has so much upside in agriculture. There are great times ahead.