AS a tool to bolster fertility, it sounds so simple and cost effective that it is a wonder it can work at all.
But the idea of joining ewes on lucerne to stimulate more eggs to be released from the ovaries has won the backing of one very sceptical sheep producer.
Mark Suthern, who runs Westlyn, a mixed Merino sheep and prime lamb operation at Jugiong, NSW, will this year join his 2400 ewes on lucerne.
An EverGraze research initiative that had Merino ewes grazing on lucerne prior to ovulation to improve ovulation rates could play a big part in increasing conception rates.
Speaking after the first drop of lambs in the three year trial was on the ground, Mr Suthern said this approach to joining could lift profitability.
By running a comparative control flock on summer dry native and grass based pasture and limiting feed in both lucerne and dry feed paddock to 1200 kilogram of dry matter per hectare, the ewes that were joined on the green pasture were in better condition and showed a greater percentage of twins results when scanned in late March, he said.
The scanning results from Westlyn indicated 12 per cent more lambs in the mob of ewes that grazed on lucerne during joining, and 10pc more twins.
Ewes were in condition score two-three before joining.
"It just goes to show there are big gains to be made using lucerne not just for fattening prime lambs but also for the Merino," Mr Suthern said.
"It's a simple idea but a big result."
Lupins have traditionally been used to simulate this flushing of ewes prior to joining, but a number of studies compiled by the EverGraze program have identified that there are considerable cost and labour requirement disadvantages, despite it being beneficial to increasing lambing percentage.
Mr Suthern said his approval of the research had been influenced by taking part in the trial and seeing in practice what the EverGraze team had been examining and will continue to study over the next three years.
"You often hear about research but until you see it in practice it does not often sink in."
Jim Meckiff, a Department of Primary Industry extension coordinator at Wagga Wagga, NSW, where a proof site to the study is located, also advocates joining Merino ewes on Lucerne.
In 2005 Mr Meckiff and colleagues from EverGraze projects and the Murrumbidgeee Catchment Authority started carrying out joining demonstration and putting scientific research into practice on farm, and observed at the Wagga proof site a 22pc increase in ovulation rates – a "big figure but even if it is a 10pc lift it is all profit".
Mr Meckiff said chicory, which can grow on acidic soils on which lucerne does not respond well, could also be substituted.
Trials examining native summer grasses are on-going.
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