CONSULTANT and producer Jason Trompf measures and records his prime lamb flock from embryo to entree.
There are two drivers which motivate this – boosting farm productivity and stock care – both, Mr Trompf feels are strengthened by meticulous data recording which will turn his family’s operation’s potential into profit.
He opened his books to an audience of about 150 producers during an on-farm day recently that focused on using data collected from sheep electronic identification tags, sponsored by Victoria’s Department of Agriculture and Meat and Livestock Australia.
Together with his wife, Penny, four children and Penny’s parents, they farm about 500 hectares in Victoria’s Greta Valley.
The Trompf’s run about 10,000 dry sheep equivalent on their farms in the North East, a mix of crossbred and composite sheep and Angus cattle. The average annual stocking rates is about 20 DSE/ha.
Ewes that thrive do the five
A flock of 2600 ewes are lambed down and scanned at about 150 per cent, and lambs marked at 135pc. The 15 lambs lost out of the 150 represents a 10pc loss between scanning and marking, or a 90pc lamb survival.
They were positive numbers compared to their situation 10 years ago, and the wider industry, which were both losing about 25-30pc of lambs, Mr Trompf said.
He said contrary to the advice of some consultants, they had increased stocking, reproduction and lamb growth rates simultaneously.
“I reckon as an industry we need to grab these things that are either going make us or break us, and lamb survival is one of them,” he said.
“If you’re an economic rationalist then you’d be interested in the extra couple of Semi-loads of lambs we sell, if you’re interested in caring about your animals, like we are, that’d turn you on.
“And the other other thing is being consciousness on what the public think. They’re watching what we are doing - farming is no longer only in our backyard, it is in the public eye.”
A well-known consultant for the Bred Well Fed Well program, Mr Trompf says “ewes that thrive do the five”, referring to measure to manage, fed well, adaptable farm systems, tailored genetics and lambing environment.
They scan for singles and twins, and focus on smaller mob and paddock sizes, to support lambing and lift pasture utilisation.
Growing more meat
“If you’re running prime lamb sheep and not re-allocating feed, you’re missing profit and from a welfare perspective you’re missing out as well.
“Turning our potential into profit is our ultimate goal - we are about 80pc there.”
As an industry, he said there were three must dos to measure to manage, including monitor condition score, pregnancy scanning and reallocating feed.
Every enthusiastic statement Mr Trompf makes about his farm business is backed-up by objective data.
Sheep graze across 350 hectares, at about eight lambing ewes per hectare.
Lambs are weaned at 40kg and this year, grew at an average 330grams per day this year from birth to weaning. That figure was as high as 360grams/day following a bumper spring in 2014.
In total, the Trompf’s produce 426kg of lamb/ha, but by focusing on a combination of increasing stocking rates, scanning and lamb survival, and lamb growth rates, it could increase to 600kg of lamb/ha in the coming years.
With the number of non-Merino ewes in the national flock doubling in the last five years to 12 million head, Mr Trompf said the focus on lamb survival had escalated.
“The issue in the prime lamb industry is that we are killing ewes and lambs with kindness,” he said.
“They need to be fit not fat to have room for their lambs.
“As soon as single bearing ewes are up over condition three-score, you’re trading off on stocking-rate, ewe survival and lamb survival.”
Banking on better profits
Single bearing ewes should be in condition score 2.8 or less at lamb, whereas twin bearing ewes should be CS3 by lambing to optimise lamb survival, especially in an environment susceptible to poor lambing conditions.
To balance the risks of running a higher production system through the spring, Mr Trompf considers the “five banks”, the animals’ condition score, supplement feed reserves, pasture available, cash reserves and soil moisture bank.
The numbers override every decision they make., and they’re using EID to trace the embryo to entree.
In the last three years since introducing EID across all ewes and lambs in their flock, the Trompf’s have hook tracked over 3000 lambs through the abattoir, with the assistance of Victoria’s Department of Agriculture and JBS.
This process has highlighted significant differences in the average carcase value of different sire lines, with a range of around $15 in average carcase value. Last month, they tracked lambs by the same sire group but out of different maternal lines to better inform their genetic direction
The carcase feedback has been a barometer to genetic selection, assisting with selecting balanced genetics that are both fit to farm and fit to market.
Hook, line and thinker
“In the future we aim to balance eating quality and lean meat yield, but it is quality that creates value and we are already focusing on that as part of our breeding objective,” he said.
“What the national flock has done in the past in chasing the market was lose farm fitness and ended up with animals that lacked reproduction, survivability and doing ability.”
And he is willing to practice what he preaches, with Mr Trompf previously welcoming JBS executives from across the world to examine his farming practices and auditing process.
“We are part of a farm assurance program that means we can’t mules ewes or their lambs,” he said.
“It appears it is a journey the prime lamb industry is going to have to go on real quick.
“JBS and potential export customers went through what we do with a fine tooth comb, looking at animal welfare practices and antibiotic use, the whole gamut.
“If you’re interested in being paid north of 600c/kg, for your product, you need to be interested in doing the hard yards, which will mean some animals and practices need redesigning. As an industry we need to work together on that.”