AN EFFORT to make a much bigger profit from their commercial Dorper flock has led Narrabri sheep breeders Bill and Lyn Guest into a partnership with a regional online marketer.
The Guests run Dalman Downs Dorpers, known as 3D Dorpers, and they launched their online business through Paradise Fresh at Narrabri’s Nosh on the Namoi food and wine festival last month.
The Guests have sold their commercial stock direct to processors since starting the enterprise 13 years ago as a hobby.
In the first decade, the Guests worked hard to set up markets for their rams and ewes but they were “stopped dead in their tracks” by the Ovine Johne’s Disease debacle of 2012 which severely curtailed the seedstock business.
Last year, they moved on to live export their sheep to China.
“In the earlier years, we focused on our ewe and ram production for seedstock,” Mr Guest said.
The wethers were just the other half of the business and were sold to processors when finished.
“We’re still very much stud-orientated, but we’ve started to live export to China and the Philippines.”
The buyers come to the property to inspect the sheep, which are tested for disease then sent to Melbourne for a 60-day quarantine period.
Concern about bluetongue, an insect-borne viral disease, stopped that market, despite the sheep showing no signs of the disease.
“We have stock that have been inspected and selected to go overseas that should have gone the first week in February,” Mr Guest said.
“With all this happening and the drought we had to look at our ways of value-adding our sheep.”
When he was offered $4 a kilogram for his lambs by a processor in November, he started questioning the retail process.
“When that lamb’s cuts are averaging $16 in retail outlets, we were getting 25 per cent of the retail dollar which is just not sustainable,” he said.
After a few quick calculations, the Guests decided to change their business.
“Everybody talks about the drought and the cost of feeding our stock, but what knocks Australian farmers about more than anything is we’re just not getting enough to make a profit,” Mr Guest said.
“In a good season running costs of a ewe for 12 months is about $40.
“When a lamb is weaned at 30 kilograms, it’s another $30 to get it up to 46kg ready for the processors.
“With our lambs dressing at 23kg for $4 a kilogram, it would give us $92 a lamb.
“When you take out levies and freight that’s another $8 a head, so they became $84 lambs with only a $14 net profit.
“If you’re producing 2000 lambs that’s $28,000 for the year. That’s not much money.”
Mr Guest set to work researching the market to see where the other 75pc of the retail dollar was going to and how he could sell direct to customers.
He said he was worried his Dorpers were becoming a “generic” lamb cut on the supermarket shelf, being bought and sold with all other types of lamb.
“The first thing we did was make sure we had the supply and we’ve got that covered, then we need to find an abattoir,” he said.
“The closest is 350 kilometres away at Millmerran (Queensland), then we found a butcher at Pittsworth (Qld) and a chiller to carry the boxed lamb.”
Newly-crowned national sausage king Jade Thompson is butchering the lambs.
“He’s doing all cuts plus lamb sausages so I’m sure, with his new title, they’ll be okay,” Mr Guest said.
Finding an outlet was the easy part of the new venture.
“I came across Paradise Fresh at Narrabri which lets me sell my meat online to the local area,” he said.
“I’ve already had some feedback and customers love the meat.”
The only drawback has been convincing customers to buy a half or full lamb.
“People who eat a lot of meat are no problem, but there are still many customers who would prefer to shop a few times a week instead of buying in bulk,” Mr Guest said.
“The savings from buying in bulk far outweigh the cost of running a freezer, but I think that will come with time.”
Farm-fresh food appreciation
EDUCATING consumers about food production and preparation could be the key to profitable business in the future as lamb producers look for a better return to the farm gate.
Lamb producer Bill Guest (pictured with wife Lyn) said the popularity of reality television food programs had helped develop the paddock-to-plate way of eating.
“People are starting to wonder where their food comes from and that helps us with our lamb, because it’s a fully-traceable product. It’s not lost on the supermarket shelf with all the other lamb,” he said.
As Australia’s lambassador, former football player Sam Kekovich has helped increase the amount of lamb consumed by promoting the meat as an everyday protein.
“Years ago, everybody lived on lamb and mutton, before pork and chicken became popular,” Mr Guest said.
“Lamb then became a gourmet meal only, and was usually served as a lamb rack, backstrap or crumbed cutlets.”
The next step, Mr Guest said, was to make the meat more affordable.
“My intention with the online business is to keep prices down so families can use it as their go-to meat,” he said.
“Lamb doesn’t need to be expensive, especially if you know how to cook all the cuts.”
Former Masterchef contestant Chris Badenoch had a go at cooking two of the Guest’s Dalman Downs lambs at the Nosh on the Namoi event in Narrabri last month using two spits to cook entire lambs.
“I noticed with the two lambs on the spit, when they were done, all people wanted was the chops,” Mr Guest said.
“We need to go back to teaching people how to cook, and how to use what’s left in the fridge or freezer, instead of going out and buying just the best bits.”