FOR Scott Dinham, sheep breeding is a deep-seeded passion.
This goes a long way in explaining his success as a dedicated sheep and wool producer at his 1100-hectare property, north-east of Tailem Bend.
The farm – River Downs – was bought by his grandfather Charles in 1966, then run by his parents John and Denise.
But it was not an easy transition to ownership – in 2003, Scott's father died when he was only 15, which ended his schooling.
"Like all farm kids I knew what was done and why, but it was having to make decisions regarding the running of a whole property that I found a challenge, so it was a steep learning curve," he said.
Scott has since completed several TAFE courses including wool classing and the basics of sheep classing.
At River Downs, 300 hectares are sown to cereals, mainly wheat, barley and triticale as cash crops, plus oats for feed reserves.
About 5 tonnes to 6t of oats and barley are kept for livestock feed reserves plus 100 big hay bales – enough to get stock through the worst autumns.
The property's main enterprise is a self-replacing Merino sheep flock of about 1250 head, including 850 breeding ewes plus weaners and some wethers.
"Besides a passion for livestock and specifically sheep breeding, cropping in the more marginal 375-millimetre country is dicey.
In droughts, despite feeding requirements, we can still get lambs produced, but that is not the case with crops. To me I feel the two-thirds sheep, one-third cropping mix is the right balance," Scott said.
His advantage is the lighter sandy loams that make up a large proportion of the property respond quickly to early rains, allowing feed to get away early.
Those pastures are mostly medics and ryegrass, but spray-topping prevents seed problems from barley grass in late spring.
Scott plans to establish some lucerne on some of the sandiest soils, but this could limit his three-year crop rotations.
Scott's steep learning curve soon taught him it is not wise to overstock. While economics may suggest this is not maximising potential income, for Scott the lesser returns are more than compensated by improved stock performance, reduced feed requirements and costs, and less stress.
To maximise his sheep returns, Scott works hard on improving the genetic capacity of his breeding flock.
He mates the ewes from the end of October after stimulating them with teaser wethers. Lambing is from late March to May.
About 220 to 240 ewes are run in age groups with five rams (two per cent) a mob.
Lamb marking is at the start of June and the average is just on or under 100pc lambs weaned.
"This timing allows me to have the maximum number of mouths coincide with maximum paddock feed and to catch early spring markets before grass seeds become a potential problem," Scott said.
"While a later lambing would certainly give a higher percentage in line with the ewes' higher natural fertility levels, it does not fit in with the ideal marketing, labour and feed issues," he said.
"I'm a one-man band so need to make things as simple as possible and reduce labour requirements," he said.
This year's wether lambs were sold in mid-September at $77 each while 250 were previously locked-in with T&R Pastoral at Murray Bridge on a $4-a-kilogram contract.
They averaged 18.6kg carcaseweight at 12 to 14 weeks, plus a $6 skin. The heaviest was 26kg and there were only about 50 carryover wether lambs.
Some of the cast-for-age ewes were sold in August at $75/head or $2.80/kg, again showing the early marketing advantage.