The renowned fast growth of Poll Dorset crosses allows Ben and Narelle Robilliard to achieve a fast turnover for prime lambs in the NSW Riverina. With 15,000 lambs bred on-farm, plus additional feeder lambs being sent to Woolworths in Junee each year, growth rate remains the main driver behind the Robilliard enterprise, which covers 1600 hectares at Lauriston Park near Old Junee, and 1800 hectares at Matta Mia near Pulletop.
“The operation is focused on first-cross ewes with Poll Dorsets over them,” Ben said. “We run on a system of two lambings. We have an autumn lambing at Junee, which is about a third of the flock, and then we have the other two-thirds of the flock lamb in July at Matta Mia. My older sheep lamb in autumn so I can sell them in June or July.”
Ben said they generally achieve a lambing percentage of 135 per cent in autumn at Lauriston Park, with 140pc a typical lambing percentage at Matta Mia. The Robilliards sow 600 to 800 hectares of grazing and fodder crops – mainly improved pastures and lucerne – depending on the year, which the lambs go onto until they’re ready to be sent to Woolworths.
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“All lambs come back to Junee,” Ben said. “Junee is where lambs are finished, then all the ewes go to Matta Mia in October and November, so we do a big swap. All lambs come back to Junee and are finished here either with supplementary feeding on grain or on lucerne pastures because the pastures down at Matta Mia are phalaris and clover-based, and the lucerne seems to have the better finishing effect.”
The average age of sucker lambs when sold is 15 to 18 weeks, according to Ben. He targets a 24kg dressed weight with lambs sold direct to Woolworths for the past 15 years. As well as having a long, successful association with Woolworths, the Robilliards have also enjoyed a decade-long association with the Aberdeen Poll Dorset Stud, run by Simon and Melissa Male near Henty, NSW.
Ben said Poll Dorsets were his ram of choice as they are the “best feed converter by miles”. “They’re just the best there is,” he said. “Growth rate is a main driver for me. The rams we buy from Aberdeen are consistently helping lamb growth rates to improve every year. The younger the lamb that you can sell, the more sheep you can sell and the more sheep you can run.”
Ben said he looks at structure, body length and muscle when selecting rams, using figures and indexes to assist his choice in what he says is always a consistent lineup of sires. “When you’re working through Simon’s sale and you’re looking at the rams and the figures you could nearly throw a blanket across them,” he said. “All of the rams have excellent configuration and look similar. The only thing that separates them is the figures.”