A SHIFT to lamb production at Bendemeer and Attunga has been a successful venture for former Western Australian businessman Steve Pederick, owner of PF Pastoral.
Mr Pederick is the fourth generation of his family to be involved in agriculture.
He and his wife Denise moved to the area in 2013, setting up a breeding operation at “Mountview”, along with a finishing farm at Attunga.
“With the property set up on the edge of town it’s so much easier to attract quality staff to live at Tamworth,” Mr Pederick said.
“We’re close to major selling centres, and our processing facility is only 15 kilometres from the finishing farm. Having both Woolworths and Thomas Foods killing there gives us a competitive marketplace.”
The 2590-hectare Bendemeer property runs about 5000 trade lambs at any time, along with about 7000 ewes, including 1000 Border Leicester/East Friesian stud ewes and 6000 commercial first-cross ewes.
“We double join our ewes to White Suffolk or Poll Dorset rams in February/March and August/September,” Mr Pederick said.
“We try to produce about 12,000 lambs a year and the rest we bring in.”
The business buy trade lambs direct from producers, with 95 per cent of the lambs sourced from regional farmers.
PF Pastoral is in its third year working with return customers.
“Most breeders either sell direct to the processor or the saleyards, but what we try to do is buy on a liveweight basis on farm,” marketing manager Jake Munro said.
“The grid is updated weekly and producers can sell directly to us or through their preferred agent."
Second and first-cross new season lambs range from 190 cents a kilogram for lambs under 29.3kg to 300c/kg for lambs between 35kg and 44.5kg. The heaviest lambs, weighing more than 55kg, are worth 250c/kg.
Dorper lambs fetch 10c/kg less, and Merino, Dohne and SAMM lambs range from 160c/kg to 260c/kg.
Producers need to supply lambs in loads of at least 100 and lambs shorn three weeks prior to delivery attract a 10 cent per kilogram premium over the grid.
The business doesn’t have a tight grid, buying lambs in a wide weight range. Lambs are split into weight ranges on induction at the Attunga property.
The feeding system can manage 4000 lambs on full feed, but up to 25,000 lambs may be backgrounded at any time.
Lambs are turned off at 53.5kg domestic for the domestic market, or 63.5kg for export.
About 1350 lambs are processed a week, a number set to increase as the business grows.
“Anything that's out of specification for the domestic market (a maximum of 24.5kg dressed) will be fed for the export market,” Mr Munro said.
Hay grown on the 350ha irrigation farm at Attunga is used in the feed ration, along with barley and a pulse protein such as lupins.
PF Pastoral uses 100 tonnes of grain each week, sourced from the Liverpool Plains, Wee Waa and Mullaley.
“They’re on grain for eight weeks, which includes an induction period from seven to 14 days, depending on the lambs’ prior exposure to grain,” Mr Pederick said.
A coaching mob of ewes is used at “Mountview” to train lambs to eat grain, which pays off in weight gain once they hit full feed.
The business has started paying a premium for trade lambs that have been imprinted and backgrounded on grain.
“It means they don’t have a check – there’s no weight loss because they're straight on the job,” Mr Pederick said.
“If they've been imprinted on grain when they’re younger it only takes them a week to be on full feed, which allows them six to seven weeks to hit processing weight.”
Managing the logistics of such a big operation is key to the success of the business.
“Mountview” employs 13 staff, plus a seven-person shearing crew for 35 weeks of the year, and there are four employees at the finishing farm.
“We shear 70pc of trade lambs, on top of our own shearing, with the ewes and our own lambs,” Mr Pederick said.
“Everything under kg is shorn at Bendemeer and everything above that is crutched at the finishing farm at Attunga.”