Merino Sucess Story – Daniel Lang (NSW)
CASE STUDY: Lifetime ewe focus drives Merino flock to new levels
SUBJECT: Daniel Lang, Manager
LOCATION: Bungendore, New South Wales
AREA: 7000 hectares
1: Merino’s match the environment
2: Lifetime ewe focus takes Merinos to next level
3: Merinos fit well with large beef herd
Targeting ewe productivity through lifting scanning rates has been the strong focus for the livestock operation at Woolcara Station, Bungendore, NSW.
Not satisfied with historic scanning rates from the station’s Merino flock, manager Daniel Lang has instigated strategies to achieve scanned-in-lamb rates of up to160 per cent for grown ewes and more than 140pc for maidens – up from the flock’s previous rates of between 60 and 110pc.
The 7000 hectare property carries 4000 to 5500 Merino ewes and progeny, about 4000 wethers and a herd of 430 Angus cows and progeny as well as 120ha of crop.
Since 2020 ewe productivity has been the focus for management of the flock.
As part of the strategy to lift productivity he joined the local Lifetime Ewe group facilitated by Elders District Wool Manager, Craig Pearsall.
Mr Lang said the 2020 year was the first year he was able to run the property the way he wanted.
He said the key was to have a comprehensive program in place matched with a proactive decision making approach.
“I’m a big believer in adjusting and being prepared to change things or do things differently – I like to be in front of myself,” he said.
Each component of the sheep management is planned well in advance.
Practices such as parasite control via regular faecal egg counts are used to track and identify issues early.
Management is designed to have ewes in the best health at key times such as joining and lambing.
Mr Lang said the aim was for ewes to be around condition score (CS) two at joining (CS2.5 for maidens).
“We aim for a lower condition score to start and a rising weight gain – it’s the massive key to all of it,” he said.
Eight weeks before joining start date the ewe flock is split into CS2 and CS3.
The CS2 ewes were put on better pastures for five to eight weeks while the CS3 ewes were run on slightly lower feed offered to “hold them back”.
In 2020 a total of 2648 ewes were joined including 693 maidens and 1955 ewes in the main line. The maidens scanned at 144pc and the main line at 158pc and 89 ewes were dry.
At marking the 2559 ewes produced 3007 lambs at 117pc.
In 2021, 4290 ewes were joined and at scanning 140 were dry. At marking another 430 ewes were identified as dry with the remaining 3546 ewes producing 4404 lambs at 124pc.
Mr Lang said that in 2022 there were 5072 joined in a five-week joining with 309 scanned dry and the 4763 wet ewes produced 5280 lambs at marking or 110pc.
The 2022 figures were impacted by having ewes lambing in some of the property’s steep country.
In 2023 a shortage of pasture feed available at joining followed by a cold winter saw 4324 ewes joined and the maiden ewes averaging 105pc and 139pc for the main flock.
Mr Lang said they had not had access to grain during joining and pregnancy which had also impacted the numbers.
“It’s good to sit back and look at all the figures each year and see what worked the best and what didn’t,” he said.
“When we get it right we can build numbers quickly. We have sold 3000 sheep this year and we’ll still have around 16,000 ewes, lambs and wethers on hand by November.”
He said the aim was to breed a dual purpose Merino with an emphasis on wool cut along with ewe body weights of around 55 kilograms (empty) and 65-75kg at lambing.
The older sheep cut a skirted fleece of 5.5kg of 19 micron wool while the weaners were 17 micron and lambs were at 15.9 to 16.2 micron.
Mr Lang said they had been buying rams from a registered Merino stud for the past 13 years.
He said the rams were dual purpose, big framed and bodied, but also heavy wool cutters.
“In our steep country the ideal Merino is 55 to 70kg,” he said.
The ram percentage is one ram to 40 to 50 ewes, running in large mobs anywhere from 500 to 2000..
Mr Lang said he had played around with ram numbers and had bred their own rams as well as buying in rams.
“I like to have rams backing me up so we don’t stinge on numbers,” he said.
He purchases four or five stud rams each year and when home-bred ram numbers have declined will be buying 30 to 40 flock rams annually from the same stud.
He said the aim was to find a balance between fertility, wool and muscle mass to breed a dual purpose ewe.
Mr Lang said there was a strict emphasis on classing ewes as well as “wet and drying” ewes twice a year.
“The dry ewes at scanning and again at marking are culled,” he said.
The property comprises some flat country along with a large area of steep country that features native grasses and shallow, shale soils.
Mr Lang said the native grasses were productive feed, doing well all year round.
He has built a number of feedlots near the property’s shearing shed that could be used during dry periods but also around shearing or yard work.
“We have done joining in the feedlot during the drought and achieved 156pc,” he said.
He said feet health was a key management focus and during wet times ewes were run through foot baths off the board at shearing and each time they came to the shed.
Mr Lang said he didn’t like getting involved during lambing, preferring to breed a ewe that was big enough and ready to lamb.
“We keep people away from lambing mobs and we also run sheep-only mobs rather than running them with cattle,” he said.
The use of grain is a key component to achieving the target performance levels.
“I’d rather have access to grain than get a pay rise,” he said.
“You put plans in place and once you have achieved what we have, you know what’s possible.”
The flock is joined in May-June with the aim of having everything lambing around the end of September to reduce the risks of any late snowfalls impacting on lambing ewes or new born lambs.
The schedule left room for marking and a second vaccination before Christmas and allowed staff to have some time off.
Paddocks for lambing were normally around 600ha with dam water the source of stock water.
Mr Lang said they generally run a lot of smaller mobs of 250 to 400 with weaners run in a mob of up to 4000 to help manage paddock feed and crop growth.
Once weaning was completed the older ewes were boxed into large mobs and used to “chew down” those paddocks that will be used for the next lambing.
“It makes a difference when the sheep come back to a paddock that’s had a five to six weeks rest, the pasture is lush and thick and all the same height,” he said.
The wether portion of the flock is run in mobs of around 2000 and mainly in the areas of “rough country”.
The wethers are run on a nine-month shearing interval aiming to cut $60 worth of wool every nine months as well as being used as a pasture management control tool to chew off fast growing pasture when necessary.
Mr Lang said little things mattered, including early buying of all shearing requisites, vaccines and drenches ready for shearing in August.
He said they had also saved on drench purchases with the purchase of a sheep handler that automatically catches, weighs and drafts three ways.
The unit’s calibration function for drench gun dosages matched to body weight ensured each animal was drenched at the correct dose.
He said that the first time they used the handler they saved $4000 in drench.
Mr Lang said they also breed 600 to 1200 crossbred lambs, depending on what Merino ewe replacement numbers were needed.
He said they used Dorset rams weighing around 90 to 100kg.
“For this country being cold and not putting a lot of food into them or putting them on a crop, those rams combined with our productive Merino ewes produce a nice lamb,” he said.
Mr Lang’s three top reasons for running Merinos are: Merinos match the environment; Using a Lifetime ewe focus takes Merinos to next level; and Merinos fit well beside a large beef herd.
Case study written by Alistair Dowie