lamb sheep farm

Building more resilient farms

By Bruce McCorkindale

The past year has been challenging for sheep farmers with low demand in the store stock market and depressed prices for lambs.

AbacusBio farm consultant Bruce McCorkindale provides some tips on absorbing the impact of unexpected adverse events.

“What can I do to avoid being a distressed seller again?” farmers often ask themselves in these situations.

The key is to build more resilient farms that are able to sustain themselves through adverse conditions. There are always a lot more options to change and tweak your farming enterprise than you might first think.

The challenge is understanding what those tweaks mean in terms of trade-offs with other parts of the farm system.

As an example, a farmer might decide they need to get more lambs away at weaning. To do this they need to increase the size of their ewes.

The consequences of this decision are that in order to increase ewe size, their replacement ewe lambs need to grow better and faster, and the larger adult ewes also need to eat more for maintenance.

Overall this means the farmer needs to reduce numbers carried.

When it comes to dry summer seasons, farmers can employ various strategies such as buying replacements and using only terminal sires, ‘flying flocks’ of annual draft ewes, or complementary cattle finishing and grazing arrangements.

These options can be part of a mix that refines – without complicating – a farm system.

For cold wet spring seasons with delayed onset of pasture growth, there are also many other strategies that can give greater flexibility.

The overall objective is to fully harness the farm’s strengths while also reducing vulnerability to weaknesses.

As such, it is really important to avoid being too focused on vulnerability and miss out on harnessing the opportunities; because it is the opportunities that help build financial resilience.

The solutions may involve changes to livestock genetics or farm management systems, including the farm’s mix of enterprises.

Alternatively, farmers could utilise the feeding side of the ledger, including cropping, buffer stocks, supplements, as well as options such as water storage and irrigation.

On most farms, winter crops are an essential part of the enterprise; failure – major or minor – can be a very expensive problem with significant flow-on effects through the subsequent season.

In spring 2014, there were many areas where the land was too wet to cultivate for a long time, and then came a short two-week window before it suddenly became too dry. As a result, this led to some highly variable crop germinations.

Drilling could have been delayed but work and contractor pressure meant some crops were drilled too soon.

The question to ask is: if these crops are a critical part of your system, is there a way to better ensure you are able to get them established at the best time?

To look at how feasible – and what difference – any change to your farm enterprises and management could make, and to look at how these changes would work in a difficult season, it is possible to analyse your various options using a powerful computer modelling tool called Farmax.

Farmax can help you make informed decisions regarding the impact of different short, medium or long-term decisions on financial performance and feed supply and demand.

It will help find the best option to build greater resilience and flexibility into your farm system.

Bruce McCorkindale and Simon Glennie from AbacusBio are both registered Farmax consultants.

To find out more about Farmax, click here