THE lamb market is all about margin for Wingara Lamb owner Wally Whatmore, who has been trading lambs at "Wingara", south of Tamworth, for the past three years.
It's his first time trading lambs, after years working with cattle and Merino sheep.
"At the time it was the best return on money invested," Mr Whatmore said.
"It doesn't matter too much whether the price goes up or down, it's about margin."
Mr Whatmore can turn over 15,000 lambs a year on grass, but as the business expands, he'll move to 25,000 lambs on grain. The 500-hectare property runs 3000 lambs in the paddock without grain, but he's been able to double that this year thanks to the good season.
"We can have 3500 in the feedlot as well, on a full grain ration, but we haven't needed to use it at the moment because the grass is growing so well," Mr Whatmore said.
The lambs are on grazing cereals or brassicas in winter and lucerne in summer.
"We're also looking to supplementary feed in the paddock before they come into the feedlot, so that so once they go in there they can focus on putting on weight.”
Lambs are sourced through saleyards and direct from farmers.
"I like the White Suffolk/Merino and Poll Dorset/Merino crosses, and I prefer the second cross to get the bigger frame.
"I start with the sucker season in September in the south with earlier lambs then work up to Dubbo and in the New Year I buy from the New England. I also buy a lot through AuctionsPlus, which is good for market intelligence. It tells me what the market's doing without going to five different saleyards or talking to an agent.”
Mr Whatmore has been buying direct from producers for the past six months.
"I buy some from the saleyards but I'm trying very hard to get them direct from the paddock so we can know the history, and they don't get knocked around so much. We're trying to buy direct from clients and pay a premium for good quality lambs produced for us. That way we're able to buy them every year."
The next step is setting up forward contracts based on the heavy lamb indicator.
"We don't have a supply agreement with our processor, so having kill space is luck of the draw - we've got to be on the ball and book in early. So being able to forecast what we're selling will make that easier."
Mr Whatmore buys lambs ranging from 28 kilograms liveweight to 42kg, to sell to the processor at 52kg. They're drafted into weight ranges as they arrive, and enter the feedlot at 38kg.
"They're usually on feed for about six weeks if they go in at 38kg, but we'll have some that go straight to the feedlot at 42kg, so they won't take as long to finish.”
Wally Whatmore and Duncan Sutherland with lambs at "Wingara", Tamworth. Mr Whatmore can turn over 15,000 lambs a year on grass, but plans to feed 25,000 lambs on grain as the business expands.