Seasonal conditions are really starting to bite which is driving ewe numbers down rapidly.
With horrendous scanning results in early joined flocks and really tough lamb survival conditions, 2019 is brewing as the perfect storm for the lowest number of lambs marked across Australia.
It is expected that the total number of lambs marked nationally will be the lowest in over 100 years, yet the market opportunities for lamb, mutton, and wool are profound.
So, how can you influence the performance of the ewes you have on hand, from here on?
The key to overcoming this challenge is to 'produce more from less' and mark as many live lambs as possible from your remaining ewe base.
Unfortunately, the moto for 2019 for many farms is threatening to be 'produce less from less', with the lowest ewe base in 100 years and around one-third of the ewes on an average flock producing no lamb at all.
The ewe herself either dies (~5 per cent p.a.), scans dry (~10pc) or fails to rear any lambs (~20pc).
To turn this around requires proactive management of your ewe base to achieve good conception rates and improved ewe and lamb survival rates.
However, multiple factors are conspiring against you, me and all farmers:
- A lack of feed available either in the paddock or via limited stocks of supplementary feed
- Diminishing water supplies
- Extreme temperatures adversely affecting summer joinings
- Poor ewe condition score; and
- Major cash flow constraints
Having grown up on the farm, I have life-long experience in the sheep and beef industries.
In my teens, I was exposed to the field of extension through the Paired Paddock Program that Dad (Mark) implemented on the farm.
It truly amazed me that at 65 years of age, such an experienced farmer could learn and change his ways so much.
Dad's experience in that program had an indelible effect on me and his parting words to me as I went off to study Agricultural Science at La Trobe University still live on as my mission today.
He said, "we don't need another bright spark coming home with new ideas, what we need is someone to help and support farmers to adopt the known technology".
So why is lamb survival so important?
For the best part of 20 years, my major focus has been improving lamb survival rates.
It's an issue that impacts the entire value chain, from embryo to entree.
For you, it takes the handbrake off production, lifts profits and improves wellbeing.
It is important from every perspective; animal welfare, industry image and very importantly an economic perspective.
All in all, there is no winner in lamb loss.
In today's climate, we need to produce more from less.
With limited resources available the key to producing more live lambs from your existing ewe base is more targeted resource allocation.
In other words which sheep gets allocated what and why?
A practice that enables more informed resource allocation is pregnancy scanning.
Don't Scan For Pregnancy
If you don't scan at all the challenge is that it means your entire breeding flock has to be managed as one, most probably run in age groups, with no ability to prioritise resources to one breeding ewe over another.
The slight exception being, on an age group basis, you can choose to look after your maiden and older ewes (> 5 years) preferentially compared to the rest of the breeding flock.
Scan For Wet/Dry (Pregnant or Empty)
If you scan for pregnancy only (wet/dry), after scanning you can remove the dry ewes and either sell or re-join them, but most importantly prioritise resources away from the dry ewes towards the pregnant ewes.
This enables proactive management of the pregnant ewes' condition score between scanning and lambing, however, you can't preferentially allocate to resources to twins over singles.
Scan For Multiples (Dry, Single and Multiple)
Scanning for multiples enables targeted preferential treatment to each ewe based on pregnancy status- dry, single and multiple.
This is critical given the primary causes of lambs loss are directly influenced by ewe nutrition during pregnancy and lambing.
Scanning for multiples allows; better resource allocation to achieve condition targets, proactive care for at-risk ewes- such as skinny twin-bearing ewes, greater system flexibility, prioritise feed and parasite management during lactation and postweaning to aid ewe recovery.
Just scanning alone doesn't deliver these benefits- what governs the pay-off is what you implement as a result of scanning.
It's this attention to detail that will take you from a good farmer to great.
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