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  • Writer's pictureWayne

I don't think that way

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

I just read a lovely quote from a Kit Pharo newsletter that said: "Johan Zietsman said, “If corn farmers thought like (USA) beef producers, they would space their plants far apart and try to maximize the number of ears per plant and the number of kernels per ear. They would think nothing about yield per acre. In the end, they would all go broke.”"

Now I love Kit Pharo and his cattle breeding philosophies and if Caluka Farms ever runs a beef cattle farm, I will be using his bulls via the Australian operation - Furracabad Station in NSW. The way he selects cattle is the way I think is the correct way, and is the way I want sheep breeders to breed rams for us. I've imported one of his bull's semen previously and the progeny blew me away. Absolutely fantastic genetics.

But, and I have written to Kit about this, his philosophy on low cost, low cost, low cost farming does not work in our situation. In fact, it would send us broke. It works in his environment - harsh, low rainfall - but not ours.

To take his philosophy to the extreme and not spend a single cent on pastures or the animals, you would end up choosing animals, eventually, that can survive in that environment. You'd go broke here of course. It rains on Caluka Farms (we are ~700mm/year average) and our soils are very acidic and very infertile. You would not be able to run much more than 5 sheep/ha at best. Many are only 3/ha. The potential however is >50/ha. To run 5 sheep/ha or less, you would need a large farm to make enough profit to make a living or else you are a hobby farmer.

We do need to spend money on lime and fertilisers here to fix the natural deficiencies and acidity so that we can grow pasture. A low cost measure to me will be low costs per sheep in the future when we have everything fixed in the pastures. But, it is wrong (unwise) in our environment to target low costs per sheep from the beginning - ie it is unwise here to not spend.

It is pastures first to utilise the rainfall we are blessed with, then have the sheep graze it, and that is when I want sheep genetics that I do not have to spend money on. There are fantastic genetics in sheep waiting to be harnessed and introduced to Australia. There are sheep that are resistant to intestinal worms, footrot, foot scald (wet feet), lice, flies, and do not need their tales removed. And definitely do not need mulesing.

And the other traits I want are animals that are hardy and fertile with very strong mothering instincts. They must be able to get fat on dead grass and not lose weight when times are tough. This is where I am 100% in agreement with Kit Pharo's breeding philosophies and is why I am seeking out sheep breeders to provide those type of rams for us. The breed I am stubbornly focussed on using is Katahdins, but I still can't import them from the USA because they are resistant to scrapie. Yeah, weird rules and it's a long story and it is not completed yet. But I will keep trying to find a way to get them into Australia.

Once they are in, then it will be so much easier for breeders here to provide us with the genetics we want. They will put them into SheepMaster and UltraWhite type breeds initially and build up pure Katahdin numbers, but in the meantime while they go through that process, I will be AI'ing all our best ewes with the best Katahdin ram semen we can import.

My vision is sheep that will never need drenching, a full shedding (no clumps of hair), don't need tails removed, are footrot and foot scald resistant, will get fat on dead grass, will produce twins and triplets every 7-8 months and live for >10 years. Impossible? Absolutely not. I've seen sheep that can do this and so those genetics do exist. That's where we are heading with Caluka Farms as quickly as I can.

Some final comments on this low cost philosophy because I've probably confused everyone. For me, it is pastures first. I aim to fix everything that is stopping pastures from growing and being nutritious and to utilise every millimetre of rain we receive. Then my focus goes to low cost sheep. It is wrong here to focus on low cost pastures because we do have the rainfall and have so much pasture growth available.

I'm scaring many people with what I am doing with the pastures😁, but, once they "see" what is happening, they too can then see the profit that is waiting for everyone to obtain. We will have a very low cost per sheep in the future when we have the pastures pumping to their maximum and we have the scale to be as efficient with capital we we can, and we have Katahdin type genetics. Pastures first, low cost sheep second.

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