Benchmarking – A tool to drive productivity, change and improve profitability




AJ & PA McBride Ltd



‘Konetta Station’, Greenways, SA


Average Rainfall:




Wool, prime lambs & beef cattle


Farm Area:


Farm benchmarking generally means understanding the  performance and profitability over time of a whole farm business or individual  enterprise and how it compares to other similar businesses or enterprises.  Benchmarking identifies gaps and opportunities and provides a platform for  individuals to stay focussed and facilitates a desire to change and improve in  a supported environment. For Kingsley Breeding, manager of Konetta Station, benchmarking  “provides confidence in the program that we’re running” and adds, “there are  things you can improve, and benchmarking shows where we need to improve, where  we need to back off expenses, and helps set key performance indicators (KPIs)  around each enterprise.” Benchmarking KPIs helps to inform priorities in the  decision-making at Konetta Station, as well as evaluate the practices they are  undertaking to increase production, whilst maintaining animal health. For  Konetta Station, the numbers add up and benchmarking has improved the  profitability of the business.

 Konetta Station has been benchmarking for the past 15 years,  and was the first of the AJ & PA McBride properties to start. Kingsley is  one of 15 members of the South East Benchmarking Group, facilitated by Elke  Hocking; prior to the establishment of this group, Konetta Station was benchmarking  with other properties across south-eastern Australia. According to Kingsley,  the benefit of having a local SE Benchmarking group is that Konetta Station can  be “benchmarked with those on the same type of country, running the same type  of [enterprises] – and we can compare figures with those doing much the same  thing, particularly other McBride properties,” – of which there are four in the  group. Benchmarking allows the performance of the property to be compared with the  bottom 20%, median, and top 20% using both the local Group and national  figures, and places the property on a linear scale for different attributes –  including the KPIs.

 The SE Benchmarking Group fosters accountability among the  members. Each member has hosted the Group, to show them their property and discuss  their benchmarking KPIs in detail. “We breakdown everyone’s data in the  meetings…Elke will highlight a few things within the group and at the end of  the day, each person has five minutes to analyse your [the host] property and  give you advice.”

 Benchmarking is enterprise-based, though the outcomes flow  on to the whole farm. Konetta Station is benchmarked on their wool flock, dual  purpose flock and winter/spring calving herd and hence feed in all their data  to be analysed – i.e. the total production for each enterprise. Kingsley finds  the KPIs the most useful part to consider and make decisions around. “Holmes  Sackett – the benchmarking firm regards net profit/Dry Sheep Equivalent (DSE)  and net profit/hectare as the most important, with a strong emphasis on  DSE/labour unit followed by a return on assets managed”. For Konetta Station in  2018/19 wool outperformed the beef and dual purpose flock.

 Benchmarking as part of a local group has been important to  provide a platform for Konetta to discuss their performance and to evaluate some  of their practices. “We want to keep our stock the healthiest we can…we’re very  good at vaccinations and our drench program, testing for drench resistance  every two years – but we always thought the money going in was too high.”  Benchmarking has enabled Kingsley to evaluate that the animal health cost per  DSE at Konetta Station is slightly above average, although discussion with the  Group about this concluded their animal health program is one indicator “you  can’t really skimp on.” In a similar vein, while supplementary feeding costs  were high in 2018/19, Kingsley notes that benchmarking is very dependent on the  season and that indicators may flux, depending on how you tweak your system to  manage those conditions.

 Konetta Station has also put all  staff through the Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) course and taken the principles  learnt there and combined them with what has been learnt from benchmarking to improve  the profitability of the business. This has resulted in improving operating  efficiencies and improving lamb survival rates, while maintaining animal health  and fertility. 

The LTEM program focuses on the effects of nutrition and management of ewes. Priorities for Konetta to improve lamb survival and fertility as a result of undertaking the program include:

  • maintenance of condition score 3.5, for maximum wellbeing
  • planting 2000 trees per year, to provide shelter particularly during lambing
  • pregnancy scanning to enable differential management of single lambs and twin lambs (including preferential allocation of feed resources to ewes with twin lambs, to achieve better birth weights in twins and not-so-heavy birth weights in singles), and
  • Testing maiden ewes for presence of Campylobacter

“LTEM tells us the last month of pregnancy is very important  for birthweight of lambs and we can balance it out now with scanning to  preferentially allocate feed.”

 Understanding the individual system and interpreting  benchmarking figures in your specific context, in conjunction with other  objectives like LTEM targets, is important. The climate is the main factor in  determining lamb survival for Konetta Station. In winter, 30-40% of Konetta  Station usually goes underwater. A compromise has to be achieved to balance  nutrition during the last month of joining and environmental conditions at the  time of lambing. Kingsley considers lambing conditions as the bigger influence  on lamb survival at Konetta Station, hence September lambing, however this  subsequently results in a longer and more intensive supplementary feeding  period, from January into the last month of joining, in April.

 The local benchmarking figures have highlighted differences between  properties in the drier, Upper SE and Konetta (Lower SE). Per hectare, Konetta  Station is performing well, but per DSE, they are constrained, due to the limited  productivity during the winter months. Higher rainfall is not necessarily conducive  to good livestock health, as sheep walk in water during the winter months. Per  head, the USE properties have better weight gain in winter, better wool cuts,  and better lambing and conception rates.

 Benchmarking has enabled Kingsley to focus on improving wool  quality and quantity through genetic selection and monitoring progress towards  this goal. All ewe lambs at Konetta Station are tagged with electronic  identification (eID) tags. All ewe hoggets are shorn and their fleeces are  weighed and micron tested (with a laser scanner). Kingsley explains, “Not many  people are doing it, but it is the best way to keep your best breeders. We have  got to be where we want to be at 18 microns and we’re now increasing fleece  weight.” Based on this monitoring effort, 3500 of the best performing ewes are  designated to the merino line (18 micron), 1500 to the dual purpose line (19-21  micron) and approximately 300 are culled.

 About the technology, Kingsley adds, “the wool industry  isn’t going backwards, it’s very innovative and to watch our own staff go around  with barcode scanners on their belt is something to see.” Laser scanning and  selection of ewes is one component of improving the wool cut; the other is  genetic selection of rams. McBride’s have their own merino stud and maintain  contact with the stud master to improve their performance, reflected in the  benchmarking figures.

One area of the benchmarking report where Konetta Station is  not in the top 20% is in return on assets managed. Holmes Sackett regards this  KPI as highly important, although to Kingsley, Konetta Station’s performance  for this metric is justified by the values of the business; “We’re nudging on  the top 20%, but we’re not breaking in there because we’re prioritising  spending on repairs and maintenance, fencing, pasture investment and employees  homes – as much as pushing it all into production.” Into the future, Kingsley  says he will continue benchmarking so they can continue to improve. Future  focus for improvement will be on reducing expenses without compromising staff  and continued improvement in overall production.