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Beyond the Bale : June 2016
30 ON FARM MAXIMISING THE REPRODUCTIVE POTENTIAL OF THE MERINO Through an AWI-funded Nuffield scholarship, woolgrower Tim Gubbins from Darlington in the Western District of Victoria has investigated ways to maximize the reproductive potential of the Merino breed with a specific focus on the period from conception through to weaning. “I have managed a number of sheep operations, from Merino to cross breeds, and I genuinely believe that the Merino can be as profitable as any cross bred operation. The Merino can rear twin lambs and produce a productive fleece of high quality,” Tim says. “My Nuffield studies have been aimed at finding ways to help woolgrowers simply and effectively unlock the potential that exists within their own flock. To do this we need to achieve higher lambing percentages and weaning rates. “Lamb birth weight is the absolute key factor in determining lamb survival. A strong, healthy lamb that is up and suckling within 15 minutes of being born has a 90-95 per cent chance of still being alive 90 days later. Each extra kilogram of birth weight also results in an extra 3.2 kg of lamb at weaning. “Currently the average Merino lamb marking percentage sits around 80 per cent nationally. This rate can be lifted; it is not a ceiling set by the animal, but is largely a reflection on the management provided. “While a breeding objective is the starting point for any producer, there is little point in chasing high fertility traits or superior lamb growth rates as selection criteria, if your management or feeding system is not capable of achieving the genetic potential.” Travel is a key part of being a Nuffield scholar and over the past two years Tim visited 13 countries as part of his research. “I found that sheep producers all across the world are very focused on lifting lamb survival, weaning weights and profits. The common factor that has the biggest impact in this respect is nutritional management – and correct pasture utilisation is critical in addressing nutrition.” NUTRITION IS EVERYTHING Tim says meeting the correct nutritional level required by the ewe is essential for optimum profitability – it drives the whole system. “The ability to accurately condition score is the cheapest management skill available and one which can have the biggest impact on farm profitability. Ewes should not be less than condition score 3 for joining or lambing. Increasing condition score of a lambing ewe from 2.2 to 3.2 equates to approximately a 10 per cent increase in single lamb survival. “Also, ‘fit not fat’ is a common theme amongst researchers and consultants. Ewes that are more than condition score 3.8 will have issues with being too fat, such as high dystocia rates in single bearing ewes and lazy lambings in twin bearing ewes.” He says pregnancy scanning as a management tool can dictate the lifetime performance of the subsequent lambs. Pregnancy testing also gives a report card on how well the farmer has managed ewe nutrition. PASTURE MANAGEMENT One of the biggest lessons Tim learnt while travelling was how critical pasture is in economically meeting those nutritional goals. He says profitable farms find a way to better utilise the grass they grow, thus reducing the FAST FACTS • 2014 Nuffield Scholarship recipient Tim Gubbins researched a range of sheep management systems in Australia and abroad to determine the best methods to lift lambing percentages of Australian Merinos. • Tim encourages woolgrowers to apply for the 2017 Nuffield Scholarship, saying the scholarship is a great opportunity for producers to look at farming’s opportunities and challenges from a new perspective. Nuffield scholar Tim Gubbins visiting an SUL (Uruguayan Secretariat of Wool) research centre in Uruguay as part of his studies.
In the Shops - September 2016