One of WA’s biggest commercial/stud Dorper sheep enterprises – now in winding down mode – has scored WAMMCO’s Producer of the Month title for April, 2013. Stuart and Cherie Smart of Erregulla Plains, Mingenew, moved from pure Merinos to develop a large flock of Dorpers to capitalise on the live sheep export trade when it complemented their focus on cropping.
But continuing instability in the live shipper market and worsening investment returns from the processed lamb market have already seen the Dorper ewe flock cut from around 20,000 to 3,500 as the couple push their cropping percentage back up from around 60 percent to 75-80 percent of the 23,000 hectare Mingenew holding.
Stuart ‘s move into Dorpers began with the purchase of the late Margie Maslen’s “Yandiah” Dorper stud at Bakers’ Hill in 2007, and the use of these rams to cross both stud based, and earlier AMS Merinos. The Dorpers are run by the Smarts, their manager Kim Fleay and stockman, Fred Moore.
“The breed has proven itself to be low maintenance with the ability to prosper with very little extra feeding,” Stuart said.
“Our pastures consist of ryegrass, radish and many of feed types sheep are not supposed to eat, yet they thrive on those together with wheat, barley, lupin and canola stubbles.” The Dorper enterprise was originally tailored to the live sheep export trade because large drafts of sheep could be despatched quickly, with minimum preparation, at a viable return. This was in contrast to the higher inputs involved in preparing lambs for processing.
“Ongoing disruption to live sheep export markets over the past two seasons, caused us to include WAMMCO as an alternative, and It is pleasing to see that the Dorper lambs going to Katanning are performing so well. The family’s winning line of 219 Dorpers killed at WAMMCO Katanning on April 22, averaged 24.37 kg despite a tough season, and returned an average of $91.31 per head with tops up to $105.55 Half the consignment would have qualified as WAMMCO Select.
Stuart has sent a total of 1,150 Dorper lambs to WAMMCO since April for an average price of $90.60. He said the decision to reduce sheep numbers had not been made without regret because sheep had been integral to the family enterprise over many years. “Even the new cropping techniques have reduced the need for ‘weedeaters’ and current returns barely justify keeping them when weighed against the price incentives available for cropping.
“We have also specialised in backgrounding store cattle for on-sale and have yet to decide the make-up of the smaller livestock enterprise that will remain to graze land that is not suited to cropping,” he said.
The Dorper stud has been retained and for the present continues to supply rams for mating in December for lambs in April/May.
"We are continuing to keep our livestock options open for the present."