DORPERS are the perfect fit for rangeland country at Cobar, thanks to the breed’s ability to thrive anywhere.
Robert and Donna Chambers and their daughter Erica, “Osterley Downs”, have been breeding Dorpers for nearly 14 years, starting with White Dorpers.
“When we started the abattoirs and meat buyers didn’t like colour, but we believe the Dorper is a better animal with better muscle,” Mr Chambers said.
Mr Chambers runs about 4500 ewes on the 27,000-hectare property, but hopes to build numbers.
“We’ll come back to 3000 head if things are really tough, but we’d like to be running 5000 to 6000 ewes.”
The production uses genetics from Amarula, Burrawang and Merlin studs, and focuses on muscling, conformation and soundness when selecting rams.
“One of the biggest hassles with Dorpers are leg and feet problems, so we try to avoid that by buying rams with good structure in their legs and shoulders,” Mr Chambers said.
“We’re after a well-muscled ram to produce meat as we quickly as we can.”
There are very little inputs for the lamb production – the family hasn’t drenched for eight years – as the Dorpers can handle the rangelands.
“The beauty of the Dorper for us is that we’re in pretty tough, hard country and we’ve finally found something that wants to live here.”
Until recently, Mr Chambers had a continual joining, but he’s moving to a controlled system.
“We got to the point where we had too many dribbles of lambs and the ewes are out of sync. We’ll also be able to cull dry sheep that need to go to improve the operation.”
Most ewe lambs are kept to increase numbers.
“It’s definitely the breed to be in to grow numbers – we’re averaging about 130 per cent weaning rates each year, and better operators are going above that.”
A major cost to the production each year is pests, but the introduction of a Westonfence electric fence system, which covers about 10120ha.
“We’ve been able to control pests and re-establish narive panics, mulga, Mitchell grass and millets.”
Worth chasing the best market
Mr Chambers sells his lambs at seven to nine months of age, using grain to finish them.
“In a reasonable season they’ll be straight off the ewes but most of the time if they weigh around 35 kilograms to 40kg we'll put them on feeders with oats and lupins.”
It’s worth putting in the effort to meet premiums.
“They normally go at 18kg to 32kg dressed, or about 40kg to 45kg liveweight,” Mr Chambers said.
“It generally costs us around $15 a head to bring a lamb from 36kg to 37kg to between 42kg and 45kg, but we get much more than that back when we sell them.”
He’s happy to chase the grid, and in the past has sold lambs to Tamworth, Kyneton, Arrarat and Bordertown.
“Freight doesn’t worry us too much, so we go wherever we're going to get a premium.
“We sold lambs recently at Bordertown and got 660 cents a kilogram, and the average grid at the time was about 570c/kg.
“We’ve had quotes from Brooklyn in Melbourne that can be 600c/kg and Tamworth will be 580c/kg, so at that point we'd send to Tamworth because it's closer, but it’s definitely worth weighing that up instead of just going to the closest plant.”