With the strong prices for lamb this year, vet Andrew Cochrane has some advice on making the most of the cash harvest.

I was delighted to hear the latest forecast for lamb, for too long a reasonable year has been followed quickly by a downturn and sheep farmers, once again, are left working hard for bugger all. So how can we take full advantage of this positive outlook and where should we prioritise spending extra income in order to reduce that bloody tax bill?

Much will be said about debt reduction, new tractors, boats, and a ute to tow it, but I want to focus on investing back into the farm/stock to improve long-term management and productivity.

To prioritise spending requires some planning and we first must look at what improvements/technology could provide long-term value to the farm business.

I am fortunate enough to facilitate two discussion groups which give me a pretty good insight into different farming systems and I get to see a wide range of farm operations. Yet as a veterinarian, my expertise is in animal health and production, so where do I see gains that could be made through wise on-farm investment?

The cynics in you will now be expecting a sales pitch for more drench/vaccine, but I’m going to assume you’re a top farmer and doing these things properly already.

I’m a details person, when you ring in July about the two-tooths’ poor scanning I want to know their weight and condition score in March and also the mature weight of your MA ewes. So my first question is, have you got a set of scales? I mean a decent set, one with auto draft features so you don’t need extra labour to run it. You will be able to draft lambs off with it, monitor hogget growth and measure ewe mating weights, a great investment for any surplus income.

Some of you will argue you don’t have the time to weigh ewes, so for you I have another investment opportunity – better lanes. How much time do you spend behind ewes taking them back to the boundary paddock after a yarding?

Wouldn’t it be great if you could put a lane in to the back of the farm and just let them walk themselves back? This will free up time for weighing and body condition scoring and may even reduce the need for that extra staff member you can’t find.

While the fencer is there why not get them to subdivide some of those big paddocks – you know the ones that take ages to split up for breakfeeding over winter. You will improve your pasture management and may even fix some of those nutrient transfer and feed utilisation problems you have.

Development is often undertaken in good years, but how often is the money spent wasted because follow-up fert/sprays weren’t applied.

We’ve all seen the farm that developed the back block of gorse, only to see it completely covered in gorse again five years down the track. By prioritising development on lanes and subdivision the fences will still be there in five years regardless of future incomes.

While I’ve got you, how about investing in some testing? This year would be a great time to complete a whole-farm soil test and a faecal egg count reduction test to ensure your fertiliser and drench purchases are performing as expected. In many cases these tests and subsequent discussions with your fert rep and vet will result in reduced fertiliser and drench bills or at the very least more-effective use of each product.

Obviously, you can’t afford to do all these things at once and maybe debt reduction is a much wiser choice this year, but hopefully I’ve got you thinking about where some money could be spent on your farm. Consider permanent/semi-permanent improvements and investments in technology that will provide long-term benefits and more efficient use of your time. Use this spare time to do some condition scoring of ewes, or maybe take the new boat fishing… up to you. 

  • Andrew Cochrane works for Northern Southland Vets.