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August 2, 2022

Bringing back the Border

In the late 1980’s, a conversation with a meat buyer ignited a spark in Border Leicester breeder Lynton Arney that would set the course for a 30-year quest to integrate technology and client needs in meeting a modern market.

“I’d not long taken the reins on the Border Leicester operation in the family business, and it’s fair to say there was a perception about the breed in the wider market place that wasn’t too favourable,” he explains.

“I had a meat buyer come on farm and during our discussions, it became clear that there was this feeling they were just ‘taking the animals off your hands’ rather than valuing them in the market.”

Lynton says even up to ten years ago, there was a 10-20 cent discount on processor grids forBorder-First Cross.

“It really triggered a desire to put a carcase on a Border Leicester sheep, and I knew the way to do that was through technology and early adoption - a deviation from traditional methods,” says Lynton.

Smart succession planning a foundation for success

Farming in 16 inch rainfall country at Strathalbyn, on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula, Inverbrackie was founded in 1964 by Lynton’s parents Tom and Doreen Arney. From humble beginnings and careful succession planning leading to Lynton purchasing the 130-ewe stud in 1990, the operation now runs over 900 adult ewes and sells350 rams annually.

Wife Clare is also at the helm, and the couple’s two daughters both have their own sheep in the stud.

“I chose to takeover the Borders because there was a heap of opportunity to improve them andI’d heard about LAMBPLAN; if you measure then you can make targeted change, and that made a lot of sense to me,” he says.

“Within LAMBPLAN our flock average has been around the top 10% of Borders in the database for around five years, with more than 270 of the top 300 rams.”

Lynton says improvements in the flock have also been valuable in managing climatic variability.

“Our seasons here can be tough, with a short growing season, and while ram sales kept getting better in the early years, I learned not to start the tractor until I had feed in front of the sheep because when you’re producing rams, if you drop numbers, you can’t just pick them up again; your numbers are locked in,” Lynton explains.

“In 2006, during an exceptionally dry year, we only planted 20ha of wheat and thought that we would need it for feed late in the season. When we asked questions about how much feed we would get from it with an approximate yield of 1.8t/ha, the answer was 2000 DSE grazing days/ha and that changed my thinking about harvesting crops with sheep, and the need to crop.”

This year, the family has sown one paddock to oats to harvest and cereal crops are sown in early spring to wean lambs onto for feed over Summer.

 

Performing under commercial conditions

Inverbrackie Border Leicester genetics are also making their mark in the commercial wether lamb and first-cross ewe game.

“Each year we only sell around 30 rams to clients within a 100 kilometre radius – but by far our largest market is New South Wales.”

Lynton says the stud has gained a following in the state because clients value data on the rams.

“That has evolved because it is great working with clients who are excited about the standard of rams they are purchasing and the ram progeny”

“When I took on the Border Leicesters all those years ago, I really wanted to understand what theclients wanted and they’ve set us some challenges over the years in turn,” hesays.

“It’s the stories back from clients that drive us to be better and improve.”

Around five years ago, one of Lynton’s Cowra clients breeding first cross ewes with Inverbrackie genetics came to us and said he was frustrated that the market wasn’t recognising the genetic package.

“But then all that changed when he had a call one day from a previous buyer who was so impressed with the productivity of the ewes that he immediately locked in an order for 2000, and now he has all his 1st cross ewes sold before they hit the ground – so there was this huge upswing in commercial operators recognising the breed’s value, it’s emerging brand and the Inverbrackie difference compared to traditional Borders,” explains Lynton.

It was this event that was the catalyst for the formation of the IQ xbred national producers group; an independently chaired group of producers using Inverbrackie genetics and discussing industry and on-farm ideas via bi-monthly Zoom meetings.

“Being able to tap into our clients experiences and ideas means we’re working closer together with the aim of getting them to keep us focussed on what matters to them, without us dictating to them,” says Lynton.

And the forums have been productive, with two key changes emerging in recent years, including the adoption of micron testing on Border Leicester rams and implementation of eating quality measuring via lamb grid results from Gundagai.

“We’re building amore complete picture on the wether lamb and how it’s performing in the market place and on-farm.”

“We also now have a style of Border that has deviated from the traditional show style sheep and are constantly told these Borders are different.”

The operation is also mating ewe lambs, and targeting early growth, muscle and fat. It is important for us to identify which lambs are capable of getting pregnant as lambs and more importantly the ones that aren’t.

“Cross-bred ewes must have high lambing percentages and using ram lambs in the stud from ewe lambs has really ramped things up and as a result has been a source to increase fat and muscle.”

 

Taking the next step with structural trait scoring

Looking ahead, Lynton says he’s excited about early results from integrating structural trait scoring via neXtgen Agri’s photo recognition AI technology.

“I talked Ferg into sending the photo crate over to me after I saw it demonstrated at the Dubbo Sheep CRC conference,” says Lynton.

Sheep enter the crate and photos are taken from four aspects; in front, behind and either side.

“I was so impressed and saw so much merit in it that I convinced him to let me copy the crate design so I could continue using the technology after the demo model had moved on.”

“Last year we took photos to do structural scoring and included all the information in our ram sale catalogues as well as online via Auctions Plus, which received hugely supportive feedback from clients,” he says.

“It’s really valuable for interstate clients (especially with covid restrictions in place) to be able to assess rams with information that is consistent, rather than reflective of the variabilities encountered by human assessment. They can see things like butt shape, pasterns and so on and it’s truly independent. This year, we’re implementing a fifth camera to capture the back feet.”

Once photographed, the data is sent back to neXtgen for analysis and collation, with results sent back to Lynton.

“This sort of technology really helps us build respect in the marketplace – and it’s really exciting for the breed in a modern, consumer and client driven market.”

“.... if you measure then you can make targeted change, and that made a lot of sense to me...”

 

 

 

Liz Rymill
Article by:
Liz Rymill

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