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Central West Genetics

Dohnes Perform in Drought Conditions

Original article written by Xanthe Gregory, February 2019.

GARRY & SAMANTHA MOORING
LOUTH, NEW SOUTH WALES

“They handle the drier times better, I’m just really impressed with them.”

FARMERS in North West NSW have been doing it tough due to severe rainfall deficits in the past year, but Dohne breeders may be able stay on their feet, just like Bourke’s fourth generation farmer Garry Mooring.

Garry has seen severe wet and dry conditions in his time on the land, but his shift to a full Dohne operation 14 years ago might be the key to living-out the drought.
The Dohnes ability to thrive in harsh conditions has impressed Garry, a former Merino breeder. “During the dry times I’ve noticed that they do well, they roam, graze and survive a lot better than Merinos do,” he said.

In an average year, Mr Mooring runs 8,500 sheep but he is currently only sitting on around 35% of that capacity. “We had a self-replacing flock but we had to sell off our female lambs so we’re now virtually back to our core breeders.”
Farming 24,000 hectares near the banks of the Darling River, Mr Mooring runs a mixed operation, with cattle and a full blood Dohne line, which were gradually introduced into their Merino flock in 2005.

During that time Mr Mooring was looking for a dual-purpose sheep when the wool market was struggling. Dohnes have allowed him to diversify with meat sheep and continue to produce high-quality Merino wool.

“They’re definitely the best dual-purpose sheep I could find,” he said.

“We were the first that went into Dohnes out here, that I know of, but now a few others have got into them and they’re very happy with the way they perform.”

The heavily framed sheep produce large wool cuts, with his ewes averaging 6.5-7kg and lambs, 4-4.5kg per cut, although this has dropped slightly because of last year’s drought conditions.

Despite being in drought for the majority of their Dohne breeding operation, Mr Mooring’s margins have increased with the easy to manage, heavier sheep. Higher lambing percentages, growth rates and the sale of lambs has improved profits, “definitely a lot better than you’d do with Merinos,” he said.

Mr Mooring has changed his management plan to sell wether lambs at five to six months old rather than nine to eleven months old to reduce costs with hand feeding cotton seed and hay. “We’ve been doing really well at that rate and letting someone else value add to them,” he said.

The sheep have been hand-fed cotton seed and hay every day for the past 14 months and “they’re still in very good condition,” he said. Mr Mooring is concerned about re-stocking to full capacity when the drought breaks.

“When it does rain, I don’t think sheep will be available because people have just dropped back to their core breeders,” he said.

Dohnes’ high fertility and survival rates mean that when the time is right, he may be able to restock at a quicker rate than if he was a traditional Merino breeder.
It’s not just in the dry times that the Dohne fares better, they thrive in wet conditions too. In 2010 Mr Mooring’s Dohnes performed very well during a wet summer season where the size of his flock improved greatly and the sheep didn’t suffer in rainy conditions.

“They weren’t any more susceptible to flies than the Merinos were,” he said.

2016 was another wet year with high winter rainfall which saw the Dohnes perform outstandingly. “We sold wether lambs in Forbes for the best price we’ve ever had for any sheep sales out here,” he said.

Mr Mooring recommends the Dohne sheep for anyone looking for the best quality dual purpose sheep on offer. “I’m just really impressed with them,” he said.

“They’re early maturing which makes them, for meat, a much better product to sell and their fertility and ease of management is very beneficial to anyone looking to go into them.”
At the break of drought, Mr Mooring will re-stock his 24,000 hectares to continue reaping the benefits of the quality dual-purpose sheep.