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Beyond the Bale : September 2011
September 2011 BEYOND THE BALE 20 ON-FARM After some strong results and positive experiences with pen weaning, James Robertson of Chowilla Station near Renmark, South Australia, is preparing to learn more about intensive weaning, animal nutrition and reducing methane emissions, as the recipient of a 2011 Nuffield scholarship supported by AWI. James is currently the manager of a family-owned wool-growing operation at Chowilla, producing 400 bales per year and selling 6000 sheep. An average of 15,000 sheep is run on the property at any one time. After implementing pen weaning on the property in 2009, the Robertsons have seen enough benefits to make pen weaning part of their operation plan year-in, year-out. Their pen weaning system involves lambs of 10 to 12 weeks old being weaned over a three week period at shearing. During this time they are fed a high starch diet in a feedlot situation with the aim of producing a better, healthier lamb that can make more efficient use of feed and therefore go on to be more productive during their life. "The idea is to artificially develop the rumen to a greater extent than it would have done so in a pasture system," James says. "The key thing is that if you can develop the rumen at a young age it will then be more efficient for the life of the animal and that translates to higher productivity in wool production, weight gain and fertility. "A future direction of improvements in rumen development is its impact on methane emissions, and as we are already weaning lambs now in the pen weaning system, should a carbon trading scheme be introduced we should be in the box seat to take advantage of it." Whilst there is some debate amongst livestock specialists regarding the optimal age for rumen development, James is keen to learn enough to be able to confidently bring back the weaning date to as early as practically possible and still maintain the benefits he is currently achieving. "Regardless of whether the results are due to improved rumen function, or simply that the diet is high protein giving lambs a better start in life, we are seeing a tremendous improvement in productivity in the sheep that have been through the program." One key benefit on Chowilla is that of feed conservation. James said a lactating ewe with single or twin lambs at foot requires far more feed intake than a dry ewe. By weaning earlier and reverting to a dry ewe and a lamb unit, a large amount of feed can be conserved over that period. James also says that they have reduced their weaning losses to below one per cent whereas previously in rangelands environments this could be expected to be anywhere between five and ten per cent between weaning and first shearing. "The first of our ewe lambs to have gone through the program in 2009 are lambing now and I'd expect that we'll have in excess of 100 per cent of lambs at foot by the time we mark. I suspect that it will be the best maiden ewe lamb marking percentage that we've ever had." James estimates that they are gaining roughly $10 per head/per year through improvements in weaning percentage and in extra lambing and that isn't counting the additional benefits they achieve from use of the pen weaning infrastructure. James was a presenter at last month's Bestprac "Rangeland Renewal" forum of which AWI was the event partner; he spoke about opportunities and experiences with Nuffield and the Chowilla pen weaning experiences. More information: email@example.com www.nuffield.com.au FAST FACTS l Rangelands woolgrower James Robertson has used pen weaning to reduce weaning losses on his South Australian property to less than one per cent. l James has achieved roughly $10 per head/per year improvement through increased weaning percentages and extra lambing. l James is the recipient of the 2011 Nuffield Scholarship supported by AWI. Pen weaning helps productivity "THE IDEA IS TO ARTIFICIALLY DEVELOP THE RUMEN TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN IT WOULD HAVE DONE SO IN A PASTURE SYSTEM" JAMES ROBERTSON, CHOWILLA STATION James Robertson with daughter Emily and the weaning pens on his property near Renmark, South Australia.