PRODUCING versatile, well structured rams that can thrive in a commercial environment has been the main goal for Amarula Dorper and White Dorper stud, Gravesend.
The stud's brand and good reputation has gone from strength to strength in the past 15 years for principals Justin and Lorroi Kirkby.
Back in 1998, the Kirkbys went on a two year backpacking adventure and were eager to have a look at farming overseas.
While in South Africa - an area in drought at the time - they visited a Dorper farming enterprise and could see the sheep were in good condition.
They believed the Dorper breed had huge potential in Australia.
"We came home in February 2000 and started to work on the plan," Mr Kirkby said.
This meant buying six Dorper ewes for $3000 each and leasing 324 hectares in Dubbo.
"We started with tag number one in 2000 and this year we started with tag number 5000," Mr Kirkby said.
In 2004, they sold some of their Dorper ewes for a deposit on their Gravesend property, which had good summer rainfall and was close to Mr Kirkby's family.
A few years later the property next door came up for sale and the rest, Mr Kirkby said, was history.
Amarula's main aim now is to improve in quality every year.
They're also increasing numbers, enabling them to offer more rams at the right price, and cater to existing and new customers.
Embryo transfer has been an essential element to rapidly increasing genetic gain since the Amarula enterprise began.
In 2000, the Kirkbys only flushed six ewes.
Currently, they flush between 80 to 100 ewes a year - the top five to 10 per cent - depending on time constraints.
"We paid a lot of money for Dorper ewes so we could do embryo work straight away," Mrs Kirkby said.
"We're not flushing our ewes to make lots of lambs, we're flushing them to make genetic gain and improve our flock."
The Kirkbys' stud animals are run alongside their commercial Dorper flock, so the stud sheep are developed under the same principles as a profitable commercial flock.
"We have clients from way out west and we need to ensure that our rams perform out there too."
Mr Kirkby said because the Dorper breed was self replacing, they placed a high priority on producing an animal with good conformation and structure.
"The rams need to have longevity and get around for five to six years,' he said.
"A moderate sized breed doesn't mean they can't walk around 9000 hectare paddocks, because they do," Mrs Kirkby said.
"It's not about the legs, it's about confirmation and structural soundness."
The Kirkbys believe ewes are the bread and butter of any commercially-minded enterprise.
"Maintaining an efficient, productive ewe flock is the only option for successful, self-sustaining, profitable prime lamb production," Mrs Kirkby said.
When selecting their ewes, the Kirkbys concentrate on good doing ability and animals with positive fat cover that can thrive on different levels of nutrition in different seasons.
They select for ewes with high fertility, the ability to rear lambs, as well as adaptability and production efficiency.
"We want them to be able to respond positively to fluctuating nutritional and environmental changes and the ability to convert available feed," Mr Kirkby said.
Mrs Kirkby said they tried to ensure their sheep easy to handle with good temperament, but also on the lookout all the time and alert in their environment.
"Especially when they're mothering we want them to be on the lookout for their lambs," she said.
Educating their clients has been a vital part of the Kirkbys production, as it encourages them to produce a better animal every time.
During the year, the couple run multiple educational courses, that vary from teaching children about Dorpers to spending a day with their clients and teaching them about the selection process.
The Kirkbys use Lambplan in correlation with visual selection - the International Dorper Breed Standard and Typing System.
Mr Kirkby said teaching them how to identify bad traits in a ram makes them more discerning which, in turn, pushes them to produce a better product.
The Kirkbys major bloodlines have been Tien Jordaan from South Africa and Philip Strauss from Namibia, however, through the years they've definitely put their own stamp on their flock.
The Kirkbys have supported the Dubbo show since their first lambs were born in 2001.
Mrs Kirkby said for them, the show circuit was about networking and getting their brand recognised in the sheep industry, although they have had enormous success.
The Dubbo National Sale has been one show and sale where the Kirkbys have had particular success, with one of their Dorper rams holding the record price for $34,000.
They also hold the highest price for a Dorper ewe at $6750.
Now they're established, Mrs Kirkby said they've started to focus on the carcase competitions as they show commercial producers how rams can impact a flock.
"The carcase competitions really reinforce our credibility as we can show producers what our rams can do for them," she said.
Flush with fertility
KNOWING the nutritional needs of their flock and how to best manage their property has been a necessity for Amarula principals Lorroi and Justin Kirkby.
The two run a Dorper and White Dorper stud in Gravesend and have been set on producing self-replacing rams for commercial producers.
In two years, the Kirkbys (pictured) can usually get three lambings, meaning they join every spring and autumn.
Good management has been the key to having successful accelerated joinings, as well as knowing what their property is capable of.
Ensuring ewe nutrition is up to scratch is also crucial to this.
The Kirkbys' property is divided into 45 paddocks which sheep graze for between five to seven days each.
Mr Kirkby said it means while the sheep are in one paddock, the rest of the farm can be rested, and not return to the same paddock for 10 to 12 weeks.
Having the sheep move so frequently has also helped the Kirkbys minimise their drenching regime.
Mrs Kirkby said they were trying to produce sheep that are more resistant to worms and they've been incorporating fecal egg counts from their rams and ewes into their Lambplan measurements.