Sheep are becoming a key component of the Yeoval-based mixed farming enterprise Pine Villa which won grand champion pen at the 2022 Dubbo Show Prime Lamb Competition.
Solidifying confidence in their lamb production system, the Haycock family of Pine Villa were first-time entrants in the competition.
Chris Haycock said the family was extremely excited with their results and didn't realise they had won until after the presentation concluded.
Their pen of three White Suffolk lambs won the overall grand champion pen after winning the heavy export class, 62 kilograms and over, along with champion White Suffolk pen. With an average liveweight of 71.3kg, the pen received 97.3 points from a possible 110, and received the Paul Sinclair Memorial Shield.
"I have got some really good lambs on the ground now and I am hoping to go in it again," Mr Haycock said.
Being relatively new to the sheep game, the Haycocks have been building their flock up after the drought with current ewe numbers at about 600. The bulk of the flock are a mix of first-cross ewes that are Merino/Border Leicesters and Merino/White Suffolk cross. They are all joined to Dorset rams.
Mr Haycock said entering the competition meant the lambs were sold as suckers which he didn't usually do.
"We try and grow them out to meet the heavy export lamb market," he said.
To ensure stock reached market specifications, Mr Haycock said he had focused on producing big ewes and rams to cope with the weight and growth needed.
The lambs were being sold through the Dubbo saleyards but Mr Haycock said he was looking for other options that had more predictability. "We are thinking of selling them over the hook because you know you have a guaranteed price," he said.
Selling over the hooks meant the family needed to look at and select lambs about a month before they were ready so they could be booked in with an abattoir.
"We already know what our lambs can do after the Dubbo competition and we talked to Fletchers and they said the lambs killed beautifully," Mr Haycock said.
Using Ashburnia bloodlines, Mr Haycock said he had been buying from the stud for a few years now buying the top-priced lots at the sale each year.
"I suppose it comes down to the quality rams you buy and you need good ewes to put them over to breed the good lambs," he said.
When lambs are weaned, they were put in to a lucerne pasture paddock with feeders and Mr Haycock said the lambs just thrived. They plan to keep increasing ewe numbers but wanted to wait until he had more pasture sown before committing to a larger flock.
"We try and crop for four to five years which gets the paddock spotless and them we sow lucerne and clover which we get about seven years of really good pasture before they start thinning out," he said.
Aiming to breed their own Dorset rams, 100 stud ewes were purchased from Allendale Poll Dorsets, Bordertown, SA, which Mr Haycock labeled as one of the top studs in Australia.
"They are one of the oldest studs going so we rang them up and asked if they would sell some ewes and they said they had never sold a ewe to anyone," he said.
The ewes were purchased already joined by either artificial insemination (AI) or natural service to Allendale rams with the first of the lambs currently hitting the ground on the Haycocks' property.
With an in-depth cattle background, Mr Haycock said breeding sheep was not too different from breeding cattle.
"The better the breeding stock are, the better the lambs will be," he said.
Hit heavily by the last drought, there were some big decisions and management changes made to the mixed-farming operation.
The Haycocks previously bred mainly Red Angus cattle but as the drought grew tougher, they decided the best option for the cattle was to flush their stud females and freeze the embryos to keep their genetics, and then send the stock to market.
With about 250 cows back in the herd, Mr Haycock said he would keep the bulk of their heifer calves after culling to build numbers and self-replace where needed.
"We are still feeding the same as we were but we don't quite have the numbers we did before. We cut them back so we could look after everything a bit more," he said. "Because the prices are so good, you don't have to run the numbers you did before either, you can run half the numbers and you're still making the same money off it."
The key to aspects of their livestock operations is to not let stock lose condition.
"It is the same with sheep and cattle, if you don't let them go back (in condition), they will grow and do what they are bred to do and they'll put it all in to it," he said.
"We just look after them as well as we can and you just have to take the pride in to doing it. You take pride in them and at the end of the day it comes down to how you handle them and if you look after them, they look after you."
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