Grass works best for small-scale WA lamb operation

Fiona Myers, August 15, 2018

LAMB feeding costs can be as cheap as $120/tonne of dry matter in pasture-based systems, according to a Western Australian consultant and producer.

Kirk Reynolds runs San Gervasio Grazing at Dardanup, in Western Australia, and has called on his work as an agronomist to fine tuning a lamb finishing operation.

His operation is small – at 40 ha — “my farm fits easily into most people’s paddocks,” he told delegates at the recent Lambex 2018 conference, but Mr Reynolds said there were lessons that he had learned on his farm which could be applied to others.

“I love pastures, understanding the pastures and want to try to drive money out of them,” he said.

He and his wife Emma bought into a family farm, and could have leased out the farm to a dairy farmer, but decided to see if they could make it work financially by farming it themselves.

But they had a benchmark – it needed to make at least $250/hectare, which is what they could lease it out for.

Instead they decided to embark on a lamb-finishing system using pasture.

“It’s important to understand what your resources are,” Mr Reynolds said.

“My resources were a small block of land in a high rainfall zone that is predominately use for cattle.

“My knowledge of pastures, particularly the use of fertilisers and grazing management, meant I could grow a large amount of cheap grass to make a margin I needed with the right animal system that sat on top,” he said.

Steers set up pasture for Dorper lambs

Kirk Reynolds at Lambex 2018

Mr Reynolds has developed a business relationship with his brother Adam, who farms north of Geraldton in Western Australia, to finish his Dorper lambs on pasture.

The lambs come in at about 30kg liveweight and leave at 45kg liveweight to go to the abattoirs.

“To describe my system, I use steers in winter to set up my pastures for spring.

“In spring, I double stocking pressure with lambs and drive off as much as meat as I can for as low a cost as I can on grass,” Mr Reynolds said.

This is based around his philosophy that pasture is the cheapest feed.

“We have heard it a million times that pasture is the cheapest and dairy farmers rate it at $110-$120 /tonne of dry matter.

“That is a quarter to a third of the price of the alternatives.”

Mr Reynolds said livestock profits were relatively simple.

“You have a stocking rate matched with pasture production and have low labour and input costs and this works with dairy, beef or sheep,” he said.

Operation generates about $1000/ha

Mr Reynolds is happy with the production generated through running lambs on pastures.

“I wanted to look at whether out system stacked up,” he said.

“When it comes to production figures on livestock, not a lot to compare to in the area.

“We are pushing about 700kg liveweight/ha, and the general feeling is that beef breeders and traders are at 300-400kg/ha, but that is production, not profit.”

A few years into the system, the Reynolds farm is generating about $1000/ha, four times the amount they could have achieve by leasing it.

They have adapted their system, moving from ryegrass dominant to adding chicory and lucerne to “add shoulders to the season” and extend the length of grazing.

But it always comes back to pasture.

“Pasture is cheapest form of feed,” Mr Reynolds said.

“You need to understand your resources and take measurements to make more informed decisions.”


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