CONSISTENT Poll Dorset lambs with rapid growth are attracting premium prices.
With the Eastern States Trade Lamb Indicator averaging 830c/kg so far for 2021, and demand from export markets continuing to grow, it's no wonder producers are looking to lamb.
The Australian sheep flock is set to build to back over 68 million head this year, according to Meat and Livestock Australia, and saleyard prices are expected to remain historically high.
How can producers best boost lamb profits?
Put a Poll Dorset in the paddock, according to Australian Poll Dorset Association president Isabele Roberts.
Mrs Roberts said Poll Dorset studs deliver more than 26,000 flock rams to the lamb industry, and producers know they are the "profit-driving" breed.
"Our dominance as a sire in the prime lamb sector has held firm relative to ewe numbers, with a few fluctuations in real numbers across areas most heavily affected by drought in 2018-19," she said.
"The 2020-21 selling season has been outstanding, with many ram lambs sold to fill the enormous demand for Poll Dorset genetics.
"The post-drought rebuild of the ewe flock is rapid, and there are more farmers going into sheep than has been seen for years.
"There is confidence and excitement, and an enthusiasm to do a good job with the sheep and it is so good to see we are the terminal sire of choice - not just because it is the traditional choice, but because by using a Poll Dorset ram, the lamb enterprise is better."
Poll Dorsets are weight-for-age winners at all stages, with rapid growth allowing them to hit market specifications first - and break records from in-utero to heavy export weights, Mrs Roberts said.
Scanned-in-lamb (SIL) first-cross ewes hit $476 last year, when the Mumford family from Koolywurtie, SA, sold 13- to 14-month-old ewes joined to Poll Dorset rams via AuctionsPlus.
This surpassed a lot sold for $442 by the Cumming family, Coolaman, NSW, which were also SIL to Poll Dorset sires.
Poll Dorset-sired lots have also pushed heavy lamb prices to new highs in the past 18 months, namely a consignment from the Guthrie family, Dean, Vic, selling for $380 at Ballarat to Southern Meats, Goulburn.
Those lambs were about 40kg (carcase weight) at 10 months, and overtook another mob of Poll Dorset-cross lambs sold by the McIntosh family from Wanalta, Vic, at Bendigo for $360.
There is confidence and excitement, and an enthusiasm to do a good job with the sheep and it is so good to see we are the terminal sire of choice - not just because it is the traditional choice, but because by using a Poll Dorset ram, the lamb enterprise is better.
The McIntosh lambs a carcase weight of 43kg at 11 months.
New season Poll Dorset-sired lambs were already hitting the sucker market in the last week of June this year, attracting a top of $212.20 at the Forbes Livestock Exchange.
And they're not to be overlooked at a store lamb level either, especially with the restocker lamb price offering a substantial premium to other categories for most of this year, peaking at a 156c/kg premium in March.
AuctionsPlus reports that Poll Dorset-sired lambs accounted for 23 per cent of their lamb listings in 2018-19, equating to a 49pc growth between the 2016-17 and 2017-18 season, and a 20pc growth between 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The volume offered not only proves producers can use Poll Dorset genetics to hit whatever market best suits their production system, but the market is there.
One of the producers who has seen first hand that buyer demand across multiple markets is Mal Hungerford.
Mr Hungerford manages Merrill, a sheep operation between Gunning and Crookwell in NSW.
He joins about 8500 Merino ewes to Poll Dorset rams.
A majority of those lambs are turned off direct to a lamb finisher before ending up at Coles for processing.
"Our aim is to keep 2000 lambs to finish when the season permits, with the remainder sold as stores at 30kg to 35kg," Mr Hungerford said.
"When you are lambing 6500 ewes at once you can't be everywhere, and the low birthweight lambs are going well, they take off at marking age and get a good start.
"The early lambs in a good year get to 30kg-plus at weaning at three months of age, and if the timing doesn't work out for sending them direct to the finisher, we put them on AuctionsPlus and have no trouble selling them - they have such a good name, that as soon as you offer them up they sell.
"The last couple of years we've bought ewes already in lamb to non-Dorset rams and our main buyer won't take them as they then won't take them at Coles.
"Poll Dorsets are easy to sell.
"Everything will sell when there aren't many about, but when everyone's got lambs you want to be selling the best lambs."