BEING able to join year-round is a huge benefit for lamb producer Evan Frankham, who's running a low-maintenance breeding and finishing operation at Rosalea, Wellington.
Mr Frankham has been breeding Australian White sheep for the past three years, using genetics from the Endacott family's Red Hill stud at nearby Wongarbon.
He started from a Wiltipoll base, but now about half of his 330-head flock is full-blood Aussie Whites, and he's planning to have a pure production in the next few years.
Mr Frankham is currently in a rebuilding phase, after destocking from 500 ewes during drought.
He hopes to increase flock numbers again, to between 500 and 600 ewes.
"I wanted a self-replacing meat sheep but without the wool, so a shedding breed, and something that would join year round," Mr Frankham said.
"I knew there was commercial acceptance of the carcase, that it was comparable to a second-cross lamb."
Before breeding Aussie Whites he was selling sheep into the local saleyards.
Now he's supplying two butcher shops in Dubbo and Wellington, with about 30 to 35 head processed each month.
The flock's scanning and lambing rates have had a big improvement since switching to Aussie Whites.
"We've only had them since 2017 so we haven't seen them in a good season, but through the drought they performed very well, and continued to join and have lambs," Mr Frankham said.
"We scan in May and select pretty heavily from scanning - they've either got to have a lamb on them at that time or be in lamb.
I like rams that are thick, wide across the shoulders, deep through the girth and thick to the back end.
I get paid for the carcase, so I need big eye muscle, good fat cover, and the meat needs to be tender.
"I've found that if I keep them in good order, at three and four (condition) score, I'll have no drama getting them in lamb, and we can get 130 per cent marking over the year."
Carcase is the main focus when selecting rams, as that's what Mr Frankham is paid on when he's selling directly to butchers.
"I like rams that are thick, wide across the shoulders, deep through the girth and thick to the back end," he said.
"I get paid for the carcase, so I need big eye muscle, good fat cover, and the meat needs to be tender."
Aussie White lambs have no trouble getting to kill weights. The pasture mix on the property includes clover and ryegrass, with a lot of native grasses.
"They seem to do very well on not a lot of feed," Mr Frankham said.
"They're hardy in tough conditions. I fed barley sprouts throughout the drought but like everyone else, I had no pasture, but I was still able to turn off lambs in fat condition to the butcher."
In the drought the lambs were turned off at seven to eight months, but in a good season, it'll be closer to five months.
"I haven't seen them in two good seasons yet," Mr Frankham said.
"The butcher wants them at trade weight - 21 to 25 kilograms (carcase weight). I've just marked some that were born in April and May and there were plenty of them that were 35kg plus."
Meating the right specs to supply butchers
Mr Frankham supplies two butchers, with lamb - Dowto's Family Meats at Wellington, and Bourke Street Butchery in Dubbo, which buys most of his lambs.
Bourke Street Butchery owner Ray Pearson said Mr Frankham's carcases have been pretty consistent, which is a big priority for a butcher shop.
"Some of them have had a little bit of fat, but they're good lambs, with good eye muscle size," he said.
"We use a bigger lamb, 24kg to 25kg, because if you use a 18kg lamb and customers see a loin chop in the window, the eye muscle isn't big enough, and the cutlets are always small.
"They're nice shaped lambs, with a nice structure."
Mr Pearson has been buying direct from farmers for the past seven years, and has two lamb suppliers, two pork suppliers and one beef supplier.
He did his best to source directly from farmers during drought, travelling as far as Harden.
"All the customers want to know where the meat comes from," Mr Pearson said.
"It's important for us to source from farmers, becuase without them, we're in trouble."