Zino Beef+LambNZ Profit Partnership
Groups of farmers work together in a Beef + Lamb NZ partnership to improve profitability
Beef + Lamb is involved with five types of project farm designed to meet the needs of sheep and beef farmers in various localities throughout the country. A relatively new venture is the Profit Partnership Programme in which a group of 10 – 15 farmers from the same area agree to meet regularly and work together to focus on improving the financial returns from either sheep or beef. The aim is to help farmers make rapid and measurable improvements in productivity, profit and business growth – an extra 5% in annual profit year on year within two years of joining.
The programme is a part farm analysis approach and usually works with a single species. All farms in the group are benchmarked and monitored.
Mark Zino’s property consists of 1100 ha, ranging from riverbed flats through to heavy clay soils up into steep tussock country. About 320 ha is rolling to steep and in a 900 mm rain bracket while the balance of 780 ha is flat and has about 650 mm rainfall. The flats are 300 m above sea level while the top goes up to 480 m. Both are subject to hard frosts.
- Deer – 750 Hinds plus progeny
- Beef cattle – 150 cows, 180 yearlings
- Dairy cattle – winter 700 cows, graze 200 heifers
Sheep – 3700 ewes, 900 hoggets, sell about 5200 lambs annually
Crops sold standing:
- Barley – 15ha
- Silage – 20 ha
- Fodder beet
Mark and his brother Sam run the farm with seasonal help. Sam manages the deer and beef cattle enterprises; Mark manages the sheep and dairy grazers. One of the reasons they cope without too much additional labour is that their machinery requirements are taken care of by a six-farm co-operative that owns, maintains and drives most of their farm machinery requirements.
Mark was persuaded to become part of the Profit Partnership Programme because it was a new approach to sheep profitability and it would allow him to see and learn from what other farmers were achieving and compare his performance.
The programme’s goal is to increase sheep profit by 5% per year. Mark’s targets to achieve this are:
- Increase mating weights; hoggets 50kg, two-tooths 65kg, MA ewes 70kg
- Finish all lambs
- Improve feeding of multiple bearing ewes from late winter to weaning
Actions to achieve targets include:
- Monitor ewe and hogget weights and carcass weights to ensure targets are achieved
- Improve hogget and triplet lambing
- Target pasture covers for lambing at appropriate levels – earlier planning and setup
- Increase clover and herb production to speed up lactation and lamb growth rates
- Priority feeding of ewes when required
Mark says he runs a lamb factory. He prefers the Longdowns breed, a Coopworth Texel cross with a bit of East Friesian and Finn in the background (nominally 40% Coopworth, 30% Texel, 20% Finn and 10% East Friesian). They are, he says, extremely fertile and have the potential to achieve over 160% lambing and produce a very good carcass. Roughly half the flock is mated to Longdown rams and the balance to a Southdown White Suffolk cross terminal sire. Around 5 to 15% of two-tooths are culled for wool cover.
All lambs sold were finished at an average of 18.3kg last season.
Measuring weights and condition scores throughout the season is a vital part of Mark’s approach. “Monitoring ewes at six weeks prior to mating is the most important time because that is when we can have the biggest impact on our profitability. We want them to have a condition score of 3.0 to 3.5 at mating so we draft out those that are too heavy and too light for separate treatment,” says Mark.
“We feed up the ones that are in poorer condition so that they can put on a consistent amount of weight over mating. Because we are in a dryland environment we feed grain for about three weeks prior to mating and for a further 17 days during mating. It is rare for us to have green grass around that time of year but if we do have that, we will use it.”
Sheep are also weighed at mating with feed adjusted if necessary, and again at ram removal to check how successful the feeding regime has been.
Weighing and condition scoring is done at scanning, and again at set stocking where the aim is to have the stock at condition score 3.5. Mark also condition scores a handful of ewes in the tailing pen to see how they are doing, and then again at weaning to see what happened through the “lamb factory” part of the season.
Scanning is done late June and early July to identify multiple bearing ewes so that they can be monitored to make sure they are putting on weight and fed more appropriately.
All the monitoring takes time but Mark says that it is good management tool and provides accurate information.
“It is very easy to walk out into the paddock and think the ewes look good and are say, condition score 3.0, but the reality when you put your hand on them can be vastly different,” he says.
“It takes time, but normally the ewes are coming into the yards at those times anyway for scanning, tailing, weaning. The only time that they come to the yards when they don’t need to, is six weeks prior to tupping and when the ram is put out, but we bring them in and weigh a few – perhaps 50 two-tooths and 100 mixed age ewes.”
Mark aims to increase clover and herb production for spring feed, so when new pastures are sown he includes a high proportion of clovers and plantain and manages grazing so that the plants will survive and thrive.
“That means taking the excess grass off in the autumn and opening the sward right up so that the light can get down onto the clover, hoping for a good autumn rain to strike all the sub clover seeds. We don’t graze the pastures over the winter – the ewes are normally on crops for about 45 days in the winter, and then they are set stocked at lambing,” says Mark.
“The cattle and deer are wintered on fodder beet and brassicas. The country is fairly light here so it can cope with dairy cows over the winter.”
The property has 90 ha under irrigation – 40 ha in the deer unit, 26 ha allocated to wintering dairy cows (fodder beet and kale) and the balance is in ryegrass/clover/plantain mixes for lamb finishing. The deer unit doesn’t have stock over the summer so lambs are finished there too, and also on about 70 ha of lucerne in summer.
For his breeding flock Mark targets having two-tooths at 65kg that have reared a lamb. That means feeding them very well as hoggets. If they don’t make the grade they go into the B flock to be mated to terminal sires.
He has also started focusing on the triplet carrying ewes that are separated out at scanning, and is working with a nutrition adviser on feeding them grain at varying rates right through until pre-lambing.
“To date we have had pretty good success, rearing 230 to 240% in the tailing pen. Prior to this they were treated just like a twinning ewe and we would be lucky to get to 210 % so we are getting more lambs for sale and the extra effort and cost is easily justified by the return,” says Mark.
One of Mark’s goals is to have ewes rear a kilo of lamb for every kilo of mating weight – an ambitious target but he says he achieved 90% of it last season and expects something similar this season. “It means they have to deliver a lot of lambs on the ground at tailing and those lambs have to grow quickly so that the average ewe rears say, 1.55 lambs times the weaning weight of the lambs. It is an efficiency target and I have been told that very few people can achieve it,” he says.
“However, this is extremely good sheep country, very healthy. We use very little in the way of animal health inputs. I drench ewes only if they need it and I haven’t drenched the main flock for 10 years. I give triplet ewes and hoggets an anthelmintic bionic capsule pre-lambing but I don’t drench twin or single bearing ewes. We also give selenium and iodine doses to the ewes because the ground is selenium deficient, and have a toxoplasmosis/campylobacter programme as well.”
The Profit Partnership Programme is all about making the system more reliable so that you can bank on it, says Mark. “We have five or six meetings per year. There are 12 in the group and I think that everybody enjoys being involved. There is a very good mix of both younger and older men who are all probably early adopters and prepared to give new ideas a go. Some of them are in challenging hill country environments where it is quite difficult to increase production,” he says.
“We had a field day here in October and the general consensus from the farming public was that it was a pretty good concept and they all enjoyed the day. The big thing for me is that the programme has confirmed that I am managing in the right way, and I have also learnt a great deal from the other farmers involved.”
“I think regular monitoring of your stock is critical. If you look at the dairy industry one of the reasons they are doing well is that they look at their cows every day, and that’s not what we sheep farmers do. We are not trying to be hands-on every day, but we need to ensure that all the stock are being given the right opportunity to perform.”