Because of their productivity and unsurpassed eating quality, they are capturing the attention of farmers everywhere, but in particular young farmers who might otherwise have followed other careers.
Judy said she had previously run Dorpers on her 80ha, but bought five Australian White ewes and one AW ram five years ago. Now she is running close to 400 head and for the first time has sold ewes.
Demand is strong with ewes making from $3000 to $4000 each and in her stud, all saleable ewes have been sold by four weeks of age.
Lambing is close to 200 per cent due to quite small lambs which grow quickly, often to a saleable weight of 56kg by four months of age. That means ewes lambing in March will farewell their lambs by the end of spring. Fully mature weight for rams is 130kg and for ewes 80 to 90kg.
The sheep prefer roughage like leaves and bark and when feed is really short, they will grow on 80kg of pellets a day. Even then, Judy said, they can get almost too fat. After trial and error, best pastures on the 4.6pH soils at Markwood, are fescue based.
Judy said Australian White lamb has an equivalent reputation to Wagyu beef in terms of eating quality: “it’s incredibly delicious”. The key is low melting point (28 degrees) long chain Omega 3 fat, which is better eating than the 28 to 32 degrees of Wagyu meat’s internal fat, she said.
Ram selection is made easier because the meat of rams does not taint until they are at least 15 months old. Judy said she kept 35 rams entire to that age last year and once she had selected the sires she wanted, the meat from the cull rams was entirely acceptable. But they do start working at two months. Another downside is that they tend to get scalded feet. That means a footbath every month.
As well, foxes have been a problem at Markwood, with stacked derelict cars on Judy’s boundary providing perfect cover; she shot 17 foxes one night on her farm. Her answer has been to introduce eight Maremma dogs to live with the sheep and one even killed a kangaroo which impinged on one flock. “If I check with a spotlight, I can often see foxes running around my boundary to avoid the Marremas,” she said. “I haven’t lost a lamb to a fox in seven years”.
But Judy said introducing the $1200 a head Maremmas was not a bed of roses; it took six months to bond them to the sheep. However they have a life expectancy of 15 years. Judy will be holding an open day on her farm towards the end of October.