Focus on lamb slaughter dates helps maximise margins

Southland sheep farmer Neil Gardyne believes having a clear focus on lamb slaughter dates is enabling him to maximise margins.

Mr Gardyne, who runs 6,500 Kelso composite ewes on his 466ha upland farm in the Otama Valley with his wife Pip, is increasing throughput by killing most of his lambs by 93 days – 74 days ahead of the New Zealand average.

This is helping the couple produce 489kg/ha of meat – within the top 2% of production in New Zealand.

Mr Gardyne says this is being achieved by getting lambs off the farm by December and freeing up land to graze store lambs, which is adding an additional NZD222,000 (£95,341) to the farm’s bottom line.

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“Our focus has always been on meat per hectare rather than lambing percentage, which is a KPI [key performance indicator] not used by many farms,” explains Mr Gardyne, who got into farming through an equity partnership.

“The quicker we can get our lambs off the property, the more money we make. I worked out every day at an extra 100g/day of lamb growth is worth NZD3,000/day [£1,282] to us.”

Ewes are mated to a Poll Dorset and start lambing in August followed by the hoggets on 25 October.

The average birth date is 20 September and the average kill date is 20 December, adds Mr Gardyne.

Afterwards about 4,000 store lambs are sourced privately weighing 30kg. These are fattened to 44kg and sold in March.

“We have a partnership with another farmer who has dry land, so he has to get rid of his lambs early. I pay whatever the schedule is for a 16kg lamb on the day.

Farm facts

  • Uses the terminal sire Kelso breed, which is a composite of Texel, Coopworth and Finn
  • Grows 220ha of cereals
  • Scanning is 180% not including triplets
  • 1,000 replacements are purchased each year
  • Cost of production is NZD1.40/kg of meat produced (60p/kg)
  • Lambs are sold deadweight to Alliance and last year they averaged NZD5.40/kg (£2.31/kg)

“If we kill 4,000 at weaning that’s what we buy in. It is a good ratio to work on.”

Lamb finishing

Grass quality plays an integral role in getting lambs to weight so early, believes Mr Gardyne.

Land is on a seven-year crop rotation, switching from grass to cereal in the seventh year when it remains in cereal for a further six years before being sown back to grass.

Ewes are wintered on swedes, which are established using a method termed “spray and pray” – glyphosate immediately followed by broadcast seed.

Then at lambing, twin- and triplet-carrying ewes are set-stocked on the hillside, while singles are set-stocked on barley stubbles, which helps create 10% more grass for lambing, says Mr Gardyne.

“We aim to lamb at 21 lambs a hectare,” explains Mr Gardyne, who believes working out stocking rates based on lambs prevents overcrowding and mis-mothering.

At weaning lambs are split into four weight ranges (below 30kg, 30-33kg, 34-37kg and 38-40kg) and are given good-quality grass which is measured weekly.

Neil Gardyne

Neil Gardyne

“Once they drop down to about 220g/day we wean them. We kill about 66% off mum,” adds Mr Gardyne.

Post weaning they are stocked at 50/ha and lambs are finished on a grass mix consisting of tetraploid and clover, which he says is the “powerhouse” of their system.

“[Tetraploid] is high in protein which I believe is a much better source of energy because unless sugar is burnt off, it turns to fat.

“We are able to create great synergy on the farm because we use the latest grass mixes and it builds up tremendous amounts of nitrogen in the soil.”

Grass is measured weekly and the aim is to put lambs into grass covers of 1,600kg/ha of DM and remove them when grass levels fall to 1,200kg/ha of DM.

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Up until weaning lambs grow at 390g/day on average and post weaning they average about 260g/day.

Key to this is regular weighing, says Mr Gardyne, and a representation of lambs from each mob is weighed weekly.


Mr Gardyne says getting rid of his lamb crop early has also freed up land for additional cereal crops.

They produce 220ha of cereal. Wheat and barley is sold to nearby dairy farms for NZD420/t (£180/t) and oats are sold for breakfast cereal for NZD475/t (£204/t).

All this is contributing to a profit of NZD1188/ha (£508) before tax and interest – more than triple the national average of NZD300/ha (£128/ha), according to New Zealand Beef and Lamb figures.


But Mr Gardyne believes this can be improved further. The goal for the future is to increase the number of slaughter lambs finished to 7,000.

He is also looking to buy a second property to produce store lambs to feed into his business.

“We are looking at vertical integration to take out the risk because we know what the price will be.”

Another way he hopes to achieve this is by selling off triplet-bearing ewes and replacing them with single-bearing ewes, as he believes these lambs are always the most difficult to finish.

“If we sell them off and buy singles all the lambs can be sold early, whereas at the moment triplets can still be here at 200 days. Ideally we would sell triplets for NZD160 [£68] and buy singles for NZD80-90 [£34-£38].

“It is about having the confidence to do the opposite to what everyone else is doing.”

And Mr Gardyne says sometimes it isn’t the obvious KPIs that are best suited to your business.

“For us lambing percentage is only a management tool. If you go for the highest lambing percentage your kill date will fall.”