WITH the crops soaking up the much anticipated rain last week, more than 30 farmers shifted their attention to sheep and attended the BreedersBest field day at Bruce Rock.The Foss family's Biami Farm played host to four speakers including owner Phillip Foss, who had a selection of composite rams, ewes and lambs on display.
Landmark stud stock manager Nathan King ran proceedings while a range of topics were discussed including the potential of composite sheep, current market trends and crop grazing.
Kojac composite owner Craig Heggaton was the first to speak and gave a brief overview of the composite breed traits they were working towards.
"The composite is a maternal breed that can conceive and rear increased numbers of fast growing prime lambs and lamb carcases with minimal fat cover," Mr Heggaton said.
"We're not really interested in what breeds we've got in there, we're interested in production.
"It's all about increasing lamb production per hectare."
Two main lines of composite breeds are the focus of Mr Heggaton's operation, the first a maternal prolific sheep, which combines Prime SAMM, Finn and East Friesian genetics.
This combination was to achieve an early maturing sheep with a large frame and high milk production, for which the East Friesian is renowned.
The second is the Kojac line, which initially consisted of Dorper and Wiltipoll genetics.
It is a breeding mix that was slightly flawed with the Dorpers' reputation of escaping paddocks and the strict breeding season of the Wiltipoll.
"We sat down and worked out which characteristics we wanted from a non-shearing sheep," Mr Heggaton said.
"Main factors we've been selecting these sheep for is fertility, fecundity and milking ability."
They recently bought a line of Poll Dorsets in an effort to improve the Kojac fertility.
Mr Heggaton said they were working toward breeding a new generation of non-shearing genetics which ultimately would result in less work, reduced costs and more profit.
WAMMCO supply development manager Rob Davidson gave the audience a comprehensive look at the past, present and predicted future of the national and WA sheep flock.
Knowing the facts was the first step toward taking informed action and Mr Davidson said to lift the lowest national flock number since 1906, changes needed to be made at the producer level.
Tools such as Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs), hold a significant influence and Mr Davidson encouraged producers to take more notice and make better choices when selecting their breeding stock.
"We've got a lot of tools available now, including ASBVs, to fine tune your system," Mr Davidson said.
Shifting from grazing on lamb to what lambs could graze was the third speaker, Landmark agronomist Sam Taylor who tackled the relatively new concept of crop grazing.
With factors such as low rainfall and frost affecting the amount of feed available for grazing in WA, the audience had many questions regarding the cereal crop grazing process.
Mr Taylor listed the benefits of crop grazing and also the potential risks associated with allowing cereal crops to be trimmed by sheep.
An increased winter feed supply, the opportunity to increase cropping programs and stock numbers, minimalist seasonal risks such as frost and disease were potential benefits of cereal crop grazing.
From the initial results collected, there appeared to be minimal impact on grain yields when carried out correctly.
Mr Taylor said it was a gamble to use a grain and graze program and it was a seasonally dependant process.
But through an initial group of farmers' trials and errors, he offered guidelines that had been found to be the most effective, including when to begin and finish grazing.
"You can start grazing from the three leaf stage onwards," Mr Taylor said.
"Just use the pinch and twist method, so if the plant is firmly rooted then it can be grazed.
"Stop the grazing when they reach the white line, which is the point where the plant turns from white to green, because the white part is where all the nutrients are held."
When the plant reaches a certain stage, Z30, sheep should not be able to continue grazing the crops.
"If you move beyond the growth stage 30, the yield of the crop starts dropping quickly," Mr Taylor said.
Fourth speaker Phillip Foss, Biami Farms, said composite sheep produced well muscled, fertile sheep and higher numbers of lambs on the ground.
Like many Wheatbelt farmers, the Foss family started with a Merino base until early 2000 when they started trying to crossbreed.
"I'd become fairly disgruntled with the wool side of things, so I wanted to try pushing the lamb side and started looking around at a few different breeds," Mr Foss said.
His brother had previously worked with Craig Heggaton and suggested they try using his composite sheep.
They purchased some composite ewes from Craig in 2005 and in 2007 they started to breed their own in an effort to get more lambs on the ground and turn them off quickly after 16-18 weeks.
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