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Story by Caitlyn Burling
Courtesy of Farm Weekly

IF you’re going to produce prime lambs, go straight to the breed that is stacked from the front to the back according to Robert Miolini.

The Mt Walker producer, who farms with his wife Maxine and two sons Adam and Mitch, was finding it a challenge to obtain shearers to take off their yearly wool clip from their Merino flock until seven years ago. He spent two years using Poll Dorset rams over the Merino ewes to produce a first-cross lamb, but there was still a substantial amount of wool, a costly factor so the Miolinis decided a significant change in direction was required.

They sold all of their Merino ewes and bought their first line of F1 White Dorper-Merino ewes from a farmer at Beverley five years ago. The shedding ability of the White Dorper as well as its reputation for producing fast growing, lamb chops on legs progeny was a huge drawcard for the Miolini family.

First impressions of the breed’s performance were significant, so much so that the family bolstered its numbers by purchasing more White Dorper infused ewes from Beaumont and Meckering last year.  This year they mated 1500 White Dorper ewes that ranged from F1 to F3 and have reached the stage where they are beginning to retain their own breeding females to build numbers.

“We’ve been concentrating on breeding White Dorpers for about five years now,” Robert said. “One of the reasons we decided to get out of Merinos was the stale wool price. We think we can make more money out of a prime lamb than producing wool and all the costs associated with it. When you factor in the cost of things like shearing, mulesing, crutching and freight, you’re not making a lot of money out of wool. Now we are at the stage of keeping our own ewe lambs out of the F1s to increase our numbers and the percentage of White Dorper in our breeding stock.”

As they still had F1 White Dorper-Merino ewes, the Miolinis still had to occasionally shear  but other than that, Robert believed their sheep enterprise was a low-maintenance operation.

The White Dorper rams were purchased from the Wilson family, Jilakin Downs, Kulin and were put to work in October for an eight-week mating period at two per cent. Joining early ensured the lambs dropped early, with majority of the lambs appearing in March the following year and achieving a lambing average of 100pc. But as the percentage of White Dorper grew, so did the lambing percentage and this year one mob recorded a percentage of 120pc.

Robert believes the mothering ability of their ewes was excellent, with plenty of milk supply and hardly any mis-mothering, which was also aided by lick feeders as the ewes weren’t running after the ute and leaving their lambs behind. 

The lambs remain with their mothers until they are sold in August, usually to processors, but the strong prices at the Muchea Livestock Centre over the last 12 months have also been a positive signal for prime lamb producers like the Miolinis.

The fast-growing nature of the White Dorpers have also allowed them to turn lambs off in the peak pricing period just before spring, recently selling 500 five-month-old lambs on farm for $120 a head. Getting them up to weight and grade was relatively easy, as the White Dorpers’ foraging nature and ability to eat almost anything made them a good weed management tool.

“We find if we keep shifting them between the feed paddocks, they don’t get out as much,” Robert said. “We are in the process of upgrading all our external fences and taking out some of the internal ones so we can better manage the feed supply. In terms of sheep getting out, we’ve never had too much trouble.”

But it was a different story when talking about sheep getting in, as last year the Miolinis were surprised to learn a White Suffolk ram had joined their White Dorper ewes for a short period of time. However, it turned out to be a fortuitous accident, as the lambs grew out beautifully and prompted the Miolinis to plan on using White Suffolk rams once their ewes reached the F3 to F4 stage.

“As long as we’re getting a good solid lamb out of them, sheep will always work alongside our cropping program,” Robert said. “Because even when it doesn’t rain, sheep can still make you money.”

 

In an effort to cut out their shearing costs, Adam (left) and Robert Miolini decided to run White Dorpers for their shedding ability and fast-growing progeny. By regularly moving their sheep to grazing paddocks, the Miolinis have found they don't have too many problems with White Dorpers getting out and are in the process of upgrading their boundary fences.