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Flock is a prime teaching tool

Geoff Bromham checks the pasture quality for the ewes and lambs; Picture: KIM WOODSONE southern NSW prime lamb flock has to be not only commercially profitable but also play a role in educating the next generation of Australian sheep producers.

The flock at the TAFE NSW Riverina Institute Primary Industries Centre, Wagga, turns off white Suffolk cross lambs at 25-26kilograms carcass weight, and comes under the gaze of hundreds of national and international agricultural students each year.

Although the primary aim of the Flockcare accredited sheep program is to be educational, it receives no government support and must be self-funding.

It caters for all levels of study, from Certificate II, III and IV to the Diploma and Advanced Diploma of Agriculture.

The institute has 265hectare of grazing country, set in a 550mm rainfall zone.

Head agricultural teacher Graeme Anderson said a flock of 300 border Leicester-merino ewes was used to mimic regional commercial operations.

White Suffolk rams were chosen for their traits of easy lambing, quick maturity and market acceptability.

The ewes are joined in the first week of December for eight weeks to terminal sires from Keith Edyvean, Pambria White Suffolk and Poll Dorset stud, Wagga.

The rams are selected on their liveweight, raw eye muscle scans, fat depth, body length and structural soundness.

Farm manager Geoff Bromham said the white Suffolks easy lambing trait meant the breed was ideal for use over maiden and older ewes.

“We like to select rams with a moderate frame but with length and loin,’’ he said.

All ewes are placed on a rising plane of nutrition pre-joining, with the maiden ewes supplemented with pellets to ensure they reach condition score three. They are run on either lucerne or phalaris and subclover pastures treated with conventional and biological fertilisers, and regularly soil tested.

“We use pregnancy scanning as a teaching exercise to make sure the ewes get the right amount of feed to suit their pregnancy status,’’ Mr Anderson said.

“Pasture samples are taken monthly to test for protein and energy, and lambs weighed so feed supply can be matched with livestock nutritional requirements.

“Last year the lambs were gaining at more than 300grams a day — we want to ensure they are ready for sale and receive no setbacks.

“We source high quality lucerne hay and make our own Arrowleaf clover hay – all hay coming onto the place is feed tested.’’

Ewes are electronically tagged while all rams and a portion of ewes are blood typed to determine parentage of the off-spring.

The Pedigree Matchmaker system uses scanning technology to provide full pedigree information on lambs.

“At sale time, we can trace back to the mother and sire to identify the better performers for educational purposes,’’ Mr Anderson said.

“If a commercial flock is stocking at maximum levels, you don’t want to be keeping animals that are under performing.”

Last year, all ewes scanned at 134per cent and marked 123per cent lambs.

Mr Anderson encouraged his students to examine forward contracts.

He said a smart marketing strategy was about keeping repeat customers.

Some of the institute’s lambs are processed at Junee abattoir to enable students to study the supply chain.

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