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Beyond the Bale : March 2016
ON FARM 43 NEW LAMBING KNOWLEDGE A new research initiative is set to break new ground for sheep husbandry by exploring the crucial factor of mob size in helping to determine weaning percentages. Recognising the critical importance of reproductive success in the Australian sheep industry, AWI and Meat & Livestock Australia are collaborating to examine the effect of lambing mob size and stocking density in a bid to lift lamb survival and therefore weaning rates. This initiative is expected to deliver the basis for the next level of reproductive performance improvement for graduates of the very successful Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) course, funded by AWI and delivered nationally through Rural Industries Skill Training (www.rist.edu.au). According to AWI’s General Manager of Research, Dr Paul Swan, “The LTEM Program has typically been transformative for the growers who’ve graduated. The 2,100 AWI- funded LTEM graduates have improved their weaning rates by around 7-10%, and simultaneously reduced their ewe mortality rates, by assessing and optimising ewe condition score, and identifying and differentially managing twin bearers. “Yet while these performance gains are substantial, evidence has been mounting that the density of lambing ewes in the lambing paddock could also be having an influence on lambing outcomes, particularly the risk of mis-mothering.” With existing best practices widely adopted across these businesses, researchers are confident that by filling this knowledge gap of the effects of lambing density, stocking rate and flock size on lamb survival, a new set of tools will be generated to lift lamb survival to the next level. More than 30 individual project sites will be established over two years in this on-the- ground research project, with much of the research to take place on commercial wool- growing properties. The properties will be across Western Australia, Victoria and NSW to allow for a natural variation in other animal, management and environmental influences; opportunities to expand the work into other states are being explored. This initiative will be fronted by AWI reproduction specialist Dr Andrew Thompson, who was one of the original developers of LTEM, and who managed the preceding AWI-funded Lifetime Wool Production program. According to Dr Thompson, this initiative aligns well with the national Sheep Reproduction Strategy, and fills an important knowledge gap. “We will deliver improved recommendations for sheep producers regarding the allocation of ewes to paddocks, paddock size, stock density and feed on offer during lambing. It will assist producers make more informed decisions about the cost benefit of investing funds in paddock subdivision to improve reproductive performance and farm profitability. “If we succeed as expected, the payoffs for the industry will potentially be massive – improving the survival of single lambs by just 5% and twin lambs by 20% would improve industry wide farm profit by $450 million per annum.” MOB SIZE PROJECT TO PIONEER buyers and his 41⁄2 year ewes as a straight line to repeat buyers. “The 41⁄2 year ewes are a totally different market to a mixed age line or older ewes. We haven’t always been able to sell at 41⁄2 years but consistently high lambing rates have enabled this.” To optimise returns, ewes are sold on-property after shearing in September when demand is greatest due to people looking to restock in the hope of a good season. “We have repeat buyers that like the consistency of supply and the profitability it provides, and they pay accordingly. We’ve built up a good a rapport with our buyers. They benefit from knowing what they’re buying and they’re avoiding the uncertainty of the sale yards.” SHEARING Lambs are shorn at 6-7 months of age at ‘Yarong’, with the wool 60-70mm long, before the heat of summer and grass seed becomes a problem. However, Alan is moving to six-month shearing of breeding ewes this year – which he says is being done more and more in the area. “Six-month shearing might help increase lambing percentages, as less fleece on the ewe will reduce the weight it has to carry around and hence enable it to stay in better condition. “Also, I find 12-month shearing can have a tendency to give wool a high mid-point break, and I’m hoping that six-month shearing will reduce this. Alan has recently built a new 4-stand shearing shed to help the transition. “We have had a regular local team of shearers, led by Greg Briggs, for about 10 years – they enjoy shearing here. Having a good long-term relationship helps ensure a high-quality clip preparation.” CONCLUSION Although parts of the Lachlan Valley, in which Forbes sits, have witnessed increased cross breeding and fattening, there are still a significant number of Merino sheep producers. They, like Alan and Ken Williams, believe that wool production has a bright future and that it is a worthwhile skill which should be handed on to future generations. Alan was part of the Jemalong Wool Merino Breeders Group Circuit that was held in the region in March last year. It involved two days of networking ideas and innovations intended to improve the Australian Merino within the Forbes and neighbouring districts. “We’re very happy we stuck with Merinos at ‘Yarong’,” says Alan. “We’ve continued with what we know is a great animal – one which we’re constantly improving by selecting for fertility and thereby lifting the productivity and profitability of our business.”
In the Shops - March 2016