Shed lambing system geared to demand and values

Shed lambing system geared to demand and values

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Newstead sheep producer has geared his lamb production to increasing future demand for sheep meats and wool.

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Newstead woolgrower Tony Butler never tires of answering questions about his sheep enterprise.

Passion is how many describe his enthusiasm and determination to improve the performance of his self-replacing Merino flock.

With the value of every lamb born at high levels, getting the lamb from lambing to marking was crucial, he said.

He said it wasn't a question of whether the result was worth the expense, but whether it was worth the loss?

"All the information is that a day-old lamb is worth $100," he said.

The price of Merino ewes would double within two years as the drought in the north breaks.

"I've recently been to China and there is an enormous demand for meat as well as wool," he said.

"We have to be better at our farming practices."

The most analysed part of his business is the lambing assistance program where twin-bearing ewes are scheduled through a series of sheds to enable them to lamb in optimal conditions before being returned to the paddock.

Mr Butler freely admits that his system is not perfect and that he is still learning and fine tuning parts of it even after nearly 10 years.

He is also clear that his system is extremely labor intensive.

The system was born from his the frustration of not being able to achieve a marking percentage of more than 125 percent, not matter what he did.

This year around 900 twin-bearing ewes were put through the system with a hoped for marking percentage of between 150 and 160 per cent.

In 2011 he introduced the lambing system that involved four major moves - lambing in pens of groups of multiple-bearing ewes, then moved individually as they lamb into individual pens, then let back out into small paddocks before transitioning back into larger paddocks with the rest of the lambed ewes.

Mr Butler said the ewe and her lamb stayed in the individual pen for two to three days depending on the weather.

"Because the ewes are close to other sheep, they can see other sheep and feel other sheep it makes it as natural as possible," he said.

"Their experience has made them easier to handle. As time goes on I hope the mothering ability of ewes will improve."

In the mothering shed there were four rows of 32 pens.

Under normal conditions one entire row was released at a time.

At the peak of lambing they were releasing up to two rows a day.

Mr Butler said that space in the mothering shed was a limiting factor.

The ewes were joined in a staggered way to stretch the peak of lambing and scanned for multiples.

Based on foetal development, ewes were placed in five groups and run separately.

This year the flock conceived 900 sets of twins from 3500 ewes - in a tough year.

Mr Butler said the conception part was the easy part.

"We have got so much better at feeding our sheep and conception, but its the actual lambing performance that's letting us down," Mr Butler said.

He said the behavior of ewes was now a limiting factor in the success of the system.

The crucial time was when the ewe and her lambs were moved from individual pens into the smaller, containment paddocks.

Mr Butler said the containment paddocks, with a limited number of other ewes and lambs, allowed the ewes to recognise their lambs among other lambs.

He said he made improvement every year to the various stages of the system.

"There are about 30 to 40 per cent of ewes with twins that instinctively are satisfied with one lamb. That leaves the second lamb to keep up," he said.

He has plans to include another stage under cover to release ewes and lambs in smaller mobs for a couple of days to train the ewes to recognise their lambs and the lambs to recognise their mother.

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