Easing flock variation at Tallimba

Tallimba sheep producer Darryl Kitto reduces flock variation

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Darryl and Lachlan Kitto, Tallimba, said using EIDs and weighing fleeces has shown variation is a lot more than you think in a classed line of ewes. Photo: Hannah Powe

Darryl and Lachlan Kitto, Tallimba, said using EIDs and weighing fleeces has shown variation is a lot more than you think in a classed line of ewes. Photo: Hannah Powe

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Darryl Kitto and family from Goyura, Tallimba, recognised they were going to have to reduce their ewe numbers in the drought, but they wanted to make sure they were getting rid of the lower performing ewes.

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COLLECTING data to assist with on-farm decision making is helping Tallimba sheep producers find key performers within their flock and boost their bottom line.

Darryl Kitto and his family from Goyura, Tallimba, recognised that with the drought they were going to have to reduce their ewe numbers, but they wanted to make sure if they were forced to do so they were getting rid of the lower performing ewes.

"We put EID (electronic identification) tags in the 2018-drop ewes (as they also did in their 2017 and 2019-drop which came about from having ewes in the FarmLink trial), and took a rump sample and shore them between Christmas and New Year," he said.

"As soon as we started shearing them and weighing the fleeces, we could see the variation is a lot more than you think within a classed line of ewes.

"They were varying between five and 10 kilograms at nine months ... convert it back to a clean fleece weight, based on a three year rolling average of the wool market, that variation was from $28 to $112 at nine months."

Targeting an average micron of 19 in adult ewes, it was clear to the Kitto family that by taking a cut out of the bottom that they could make some genetic improvement with not much effort.

"The genetic improvement is not on visual, it is on figures and production - a totally unbiased selection," he said.

Since the West Wyalong Maiden Ewe Competition the Kitto's short-wool maiden ewes have put on condition more than the woolly ewes on the same ration. They are hoping they join well. Photo: Hannah Powe

Since the West Wyalong Maiden Ewe Competition the Kitto's short-wool maiden ewes have put on condition more than the woolly ewes on the same ration. They are hoping they join well. Photo: Hannah Powe

During the West Wyalong Maiden Ewe competition, Mr Kitto said they will shear the 2018-drop ewes again after they have weaned a lamb in the spring and they will be back in sync with the main shearing in March the following year.

"For the maiden ewes we are going with three lots of nine months shearing, instead of two shearings," Mr Kitto said."We are hopeful that the short wool maidens (in drought lots) will join better.

"Since the (West Wyalong) ewe competition, they have put on condition more than the woolly ewes on the same ration."

The Kittos interest in looking into specific production within their flock came from their involvement in the Peter Westblade Memorial Merino Challenge, and seeing a number of sheep producers using technology and production data to improve their flocks.

"The Bahr family near Henty leading the trial were cutting on average $25 worth of wool ahead of everyone else," he said. "And they have been doing what we are doing now for 10 years."

"Certainly for the little bit of cost, it is worth it.

"If potentially there is $25 per head of wool cut to be gained, there is $25,000 every 1000 head through the shed."

On Pastura and recently Kerin Poll bloodlines, the Kittos aim to breed a heavy cutting, soft-wool Merino ewe with high growth rates. They are classed by Michael Elms with a culling percentage of 30 to 40pc.

Identifying high performers

Alongside the use of sheep electronic identification tags (EIDs) to monitor performance, Darryl Kitto and his family from Goyura, Tallimba, use white tags to identify the top 25 per cent of high performing ewes.

"We aim to keep them till they are six or seven year olds," Mr Kitto said. "I won't favour them ... if they don't get in lamb or don't raise a lamb they will go.

"The bottom 25pc are joined to Poll Dorsets."

Mr Kitto said a rump sample with micron and yield was taken and used to make decisions.

"We didn't want to be classing greasy, we wanted to be classing on clean fleece weight, which has also bumped yield up," he said.

"Compared to the culls taken out, there is nearly 10pc better yield straight away.

"It is improving yield as it is selecting the highest clean fleece weights.

"We are aiming to do our maidens each year, which should result in the whole flock average lifting.

"Watching closely what is coming out of some of the projects and sire evaluation trials, the data shows a high performing young ewe should continue to be high performing, and that is why we are doing our maidens."

In 2019 they cut 7.8 kilograms a head on average.

When the Kittos weighed lambs in late September, early October, they drafted off anything under 25kg and sold them off.

"That has tidied up our ewe and wether lambs ... there is no way that growth rate can come back into our breeding," Mr Kitto said.

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