Building equity through innovation

02:39, Jul 12 2013
WORKING TEAM: Jedburgh Station farm manager Murray Kennedy with his mainstays Angus, Kay and Ted.

The pathways to farm ownership in the sheep industry are not easy.

But, Wyndham farm manager Murray (Muzza) Kennedy is building equity through one of his innovative ideas - hand-rearing triplet lambs.

It might not be everyone's idea of fun but his wife Marcia, and their three young children, are more than happy to feed the troops, which last spring numbered around 150.

Murray, 35, and his team farm 11,000 Texel-Romney ewes, 3250 replacement hoggets, 300 Hereford-Angus cows and 60 replacement heifers on Jedburgh Station.

The 3500 hectare property, situated in the Venlaw Valley, is only 1850ha effective with the balance made up of regenerating scrub and bush.

Originally from Brydone, Murray spent time as a shepherd and stock manager on various properties around the country, including Mount Linton Station, before he took up the reigns at Jedburgh 10 years ago.

Jedburgh was once part of Venlaw Station and both properties have been owned by the Story family for more than 100 years.

"To work for a family who has farmed the same property for generations is quite special.

"I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity," Murray said.

Murray has a close relationship with Tim Story, who owns Jedburgh, and while he oversees the day-to-day running of the property, any policy changes are decided together.

The team at Jedburgh also consists of shepherd, tractor driver and full-time fencer.

Upskilling off-farm is just as important to Murray and he has just completed the 2013 Rabobank Farm Managers Program with the support of Tim.

"The goal was to make the running of our operation more efficient through better leadership, time management and business strategy.

"I learnt that by making a small difference with a whole lot of wee things, that a big difference can be made overall," Murray said.

Murray went on to win the prize for his Rabobank project which was focused on efficiency and productivity gains while jointly building his own farming aspirations, which has included hand-rearing triplet lambs.

"Not every ewe can rear three lambs so we like to intervene before there is a problem and we will take a lamb off a ewe where appropriate," he said.

The triplet bearing ewes were preferentially-fed but Murray said it was almost impossible to feed them enough on a pasture-based diet.

"We have to learn how to manage triplet bearing ewes because they are here to stay."

It cost Murray about $29 to rear each triplet lamb on milk last season and if it was feasible and profitable he would rear more lambs.

In recent years he has switched from a Romney to a Texel-Romney flock using Motonui and Wharetoa genetics which suit the land topography and his production targets.

"Our genetic base is pretty good now.

"It has allowed us to develop the land by clearing scrub and turning it into productive land."

The inclusion of Texel genetics has lifted meat yield and Murray was disappointed if he did not achieve 55 per cent carcass yield from his 18kg plus lambs.

"We're within the ball park but it depends on the year," he said.

His breeding philosophy was pretty simple.

"If it looks like a Texel then it goes to a Romney ram and if it looks like a Romney it goes to a Texel."

Murray said the Rabobank Farm Managers Program, which was based in Melbourne, made him realise the inefficiencies in the sheep industry.

"There is huge potential to grow carcass yield and to be paid for it," he said.

Murray treats Jedburgh as his own property and the enthusiastic dog trialist loves nothing more than spending time with his eight canine companions.

However, his ultimate goal is to own his own farm.

"My long-term goal is farm ownership or to have a vested interest in a property."

Murray highly recommended the farm managers program to other farmers.

"It will not make you a better manager but it will give you the tools to become one," he said.