Sheep profits lifted with benchmarking groups

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About three-quarters of farm businesses on the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia,
run both sheep and cropping enterprises. Sheep Groups developed through Grain & Graze 2 have been successful at lifting livestock management and sheep profits in the region

Photo of men standing in a paddock

PHOTO: Naomi Scholz

Poor seasons during the early to mid-2000s stimulated a greater focus on the risk management benefits of livestock for farming businesses on the Eyre Peninsula, South Australia. ‘Sheep Groups’ developed as part of Grain & Graze 2 have provided valuable technical support to livestock producers across the Eyre Peninsula, with 60 per cent of participants altering some aspect of their sheep enterprise since the groups were established in 2009.

Pictured are members of the Lock, SA, Sheep Group at a grazing cereals workshop where the set up and the maintenance of electric fencing for grazing management was demonstrated.

Eyre Peninsula, South Australia, ‘Sheep Group’ workshops held as part of Grain & Graze 2 have enabled farmers to benchmark their enterprises against those of other local growers and implement best practice sheep-production practices to lift profits.

Meeting three times a year at six locations across the Eyre Peninsula, the groups link sheep producers with the latest sheep-production information and technology to improve the profitability of mixed-cropping farming enterprises.

Diversifying into sheep or bolstering the sheep enterprise has reduced the cropping component risk of the business, which makes the whole farm more viable.

Nearly 60 per cent of participants have made changes to their sheep enterprise since becoming involved in a Sheep Group, the first of which was established in 2009.

Benchmarking has enabled Sheep Group participants to quantify what their sheep enterprise is returning on a per dry sheep equivalent (DSE) and winter-grazed hectare basis.

Variations in returns between producers within the same rainfall environment stimulates discussion about how to lift productivity and profits, particularly through reducing sheep losses and increasing marking percentage.

The largest influence on sheep gross margin per hectare is stocking rate, which in turn drives the lamb number and wool production per hectare. Knowing this, the Sheep Groups have focused on ways to lift stocking rate through pasture improvement, grazing management and animal health and genetics.

An increase in stocking rate led to an increase in total net profit across all participating regions (except WA) of about $12 million in 2013.

Enterprise changes inspired by the Sheep Groups include altered shearing and lambing times, increased stocking rates, use of electric fencing to better manage feed budgeting, use of grazing crops to fill the autumn feed gap, use of high-protein supplements to lift weaner growth rates, strategic location of watering systems and condition scoring ewes (see boxed section for participant feedback).

Eyre Peninsula Sheep Group participant feedback

The benchmarking workshop stimulated us to mate our ewes to type, rather than age, and to try lambing a bit later ... as a result we have experienced far less mortality and should see a huge lift in our production.

The Sheep Group meetings have allowed us to quantify where our operation sits compared to our neighbours. The meetings are safe and confidential, which facilitates discussion at a depth that wouldn’t be reached in general discussion over a beer at the local. The meetings enable us to find out how the top producers are doing things differently to gain an edge.

Planting early feed has saved us time and money because we are hand feeding less. The sheep are not losing as much condition and are growing more wool. The gains of early planting far outweigh the costs, which are mainly fuel and labour, and we now have peace of mind knowing the sheep are on decent feed.

Before we started benchmarking two years ago I had no idea how our sheep enterprise was performing. After two years of data I now know that there is plenty of room for improvement; our main focus is to improve wool cut and try to run more sheep through better grazing management.

A central water point and a dividing fence to make four 100-hectare paddocks have enabled me to implement rotational grazing to prevent erosion on the sand hills while running more sheep.

 

More information:

Naomi Scholz, G&G2 coordinator Eyre Peninsula,
08 8680 6233,
naomi.scholz@sa.gov.au

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Crop grazing lifts lambing rate

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Farm advisory boards make better decisions

GRDC Project Code UA00117

Region South