MAXIMISING suckers sold per hectare is a business plan that is working wonders for Wantabadgery producer Chris Wilson.
He and his partner Virginia operate a breeding flock off about 4200 ewes, with Poll Dorsets the prime lamb sire of choice over their 3400 first-cross breeders.
They also run about 800 Merino ewes at the property Oivi to breed their first-cross ewes lambs from, and Mr Wilson said not only does it take the sting out of the replacement price, but he "doesn't mind the wool cheque either".
However the focus is getting as many Poll Dorset-sired suckers off as soon as possible after lambing in May and June.
I will sell the balance of the lambs before Christmas as stores - I don't carry lambs through as big heavy lambs anymore, I focus on running more sheep and getting dollars per hectare.
"And I will sell the balance of the lambs before Christmas as stores - I don't carry lambs through as big heavy lambs anymore, I focus on running more sheep and getting dollars per hectare," Mr Wilson said.
"A lamb has a base value that varies every year but every heartbeat is worth $100 or more so I go for as many heartbeats as I can."
The sucker lambs are generally sold in November at between 22 and 24 kilograms, with the remainder sold in forward store and store condition.
Mr Wilson said the focus was to have all the lambs off by Christmas, so the ewes could dry off and he could back off on the feed cart over the summer.
With a large selling centre just down the road at Wagga Wagga, and a number of abattoirs in the region, Mr Wilson said he lets his agents help decide where the best market is at the time for the suckers, while graingrowers to the west of his property were repeat buyers of the store lambs, putting them onto stubble and lucerne over the summer and achieving "good heavy weights out of them".
"Suckers will more often than not go into Wagga saleyards because of competition at that time of year, while store lambs go on Auctionsplus or into the yards - if there is a lot of grass in the area it is Wagga, but generally it is AuctionsPlus because it is the bigger market," Mr Wilson said.
Traditionally being a first-cross production area, Mr Wilson said they too were predominantly breeding those ewes, but after producing a few prime lambs with Poll Dorsets, he hasn't looked back.
"As a terminal sire I think they have great length and weight. They can hang a lot of meat on a good lamb and they are great at joining.
"I join at 1 per cent, they get in and get the job done very quickly. I get high conception rates and the lambs have great survivability and they grow incredibly well. If we can get green grass through them in the spring they grow like crazy on their mothers."
When it comes to selection, Mr Wilson buys his rams from Deepdene stud at Narrandera, picking out the highest indexing rams they have on offer, which tend to be the heavier rams that will produce the export-style lamb for those who buy his store stock.
"They've got to be mobile, got to be able to walk, have good feet and frame, good depth in the back end of the ram for meat, and then got to have what I consider to be a ram style head," he said.
"We scan our ewes each year and we conceive around 160 and 170pc across the board, and I believe that my ewes carry about 90pc through to a live lamb. But getting that lamb to survive the first couple of weeks in some years is quite a challenge, that is where the biggest gains are in my business."
Marking rates are up at Oivi this year, to 140pc from the usual 125pc.
"I fed my ewes a lot more grain this year than other years because there simply was no other feed - I also put supplements out earlier, that meant that they had a better level of nutrients and elements in the system.
"With the prevalence of producers doing the LIfetime Ewe Management course, it is now well known that condition scoring your sheep and keeping them 2.5 score and better for 99pc of the year will mean a longer lifetime of ewe, better lambing rates, better return on lambs and less animal health issues."
His other secret to success is fertiliser - and a lot of it.
"I fertilise my farm every year - traditionally I have done it every third year or so, but the past five to six years I have gone to every year and it is paying a dividend," Mr Wilson said.
While the wool cheque is handy at Oivi, and Mr Wilson is happy with the first-cross lambs he is producing and breeding on from, he said you can't beat the turnaround of a second-cross lamb.
"The beauty of the first-cross ewe with Poll Dorsets is within nine months I can go from joining a ewe to everything sold, and I think that is one of their greatest assets," he said.
"You can do it in a season, so budgeting for the value of a lamb and the price of fodder is possible. With cattle you are going two years out so it is is fraught with danger.
"I think the supply-demand equation has certainly changed a lot from when I started farming. Buyers do seem to consistently pay the money so they have a market.
"For the first time in a long time producers are making a profit, which means I am working on improvements here on-farm, which has a flow-on effect to the community and if everyone gets a bite out of the cherry it is great for the industry."