by QUINTON MCCALLUM
THE importance of flexibility in sheep system during varying seasons was underlined by grazing and pastoral consultant Tim Prance during a Barossa Improved Grazing Group workshop at Keyneton last week.
The workshop took participants through the importance of being prepared for climatic variability and its potential impact on business, putting plans in place for flexibility, setting targets for factors like stock numbers and condition scores to improve the likelihood of success, and developing strategies to cope with poor seasons.
Mr Prance said the key to managing variation was being able to make changes to a sheep program to accommodate the season as it unfolds.
“The definition of a normal year may be changing, which means success comes back to flexibility,” he said.
Options for a more flexible structure included identifying low quality ewes to be sold, holding on to a wether flock, and having a flexible area of land that can be cropped depending on the season and the timing of the break.
Mr Prance also suggested buying ewe types that had the potential to provide multiple income streams, like wool, meat and breeding.
While flock structure could provide flexibility, Mr Prance said how well the enterprise was run was more important.
“Whether you\'ve got Dorpers or Merinos or crossbred ewes, it\'s how you run the enterprise that makes it more profitable,” he said.
Strategies suggested by Mr Prance to safeguard a sheep enterprise against varying seasons included feed reserves on hand until mid-June, and a higher proportion of crop on a mixed farm enterprise to provide a greater summer carrying capacity and allow more opportunity for deferred grazing during the break.
Mr Prance said the lamb marking percentage was vital to allow an enterprise to recover quickly if forced to sell the flock down due to seasonal conditions.
“You can carry a smaller number of ewes and have more lambs to sell.”
Having a high stocking rate but being flexible enough to lighten off in poor years was also integral, according to Mr Prance.
A stocking rate of 13.5 dry sheep equivalent a hectare was the optimal rate for farm profit, with a higher rate being a higher reward, but higher risk proposition.
“If you go too high with your stocking rate you can crash in a poor year,” Mr Prance said.