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Beyond the Bale : Apr 07 - May 07
6LIFETIME WOOL BEYOND THE BALE By Rebecca Thyer The dry conditions of 2006 brought back memories of another tough year a decade earlier for West Australian wool producer Lynley Anderson. Last year, the amount of pasture produced on her family's fine-wool sheep property at Kojonup was halved by a lack of rainfall. But this time, using practices and guidelines from Lifetime Wool -- a national project to improve wool enterprise profitability, supported by AWI and five state government departments -- Ms Anderson set about treating her 10,000-strong flock differently. "In 1996, not a lot of pasture grew and we stopped feeding our ewes when our feed supply ran out," she says. "Our lambing percentage dropped quite markedly, and was even more pronounced the next year because the ewes failed to regain condition by mating." Last year when feed supplies ran out, Ms Anderson continued to feed her flock, buying in more grain to do so. She says the extra grain costs were comparable to the cost of lambing reduction in 1996. "And that doesn't take into account the run-on effect we'd face this year," she says. "It's not just the lower lambing percentage. As we saw from 1996, if the ewes don't have optimum nutrition during pregnancy, their lambs will produce broader wool and cut less wool over their lifetime. Lifetime Wool proved really beneficial in providing skills to manage a drought year." Lifetime Wool aims to increase the productivity and profitability of sheep enterprises across southern Australia through a series of ewe and pasture targets. To meet them, Lifetime Wool has published guidelines for wool production areas, developed ewe-management information (such as progeny performance, increased lambing, lamb sur vival, reduced ewe mortality, care of twinning ewes, improving ewe wool production) and tools for management, including condition scoring and feed budgeting. The program hinges on the concept that better nutrition management throughout pregnancy and lambing improves future wool production, ensuring optimum economic production. Research has shown that poor nutrition throughout pregnancy affects lamb growth and development and will have run- on effects for wool production and quality (see box above). Ms Anderson, who has a 1300-hectare farm and crops 200ha of canola, barley, oats and fodder with her father, says Lifetime Wool has given her a better understanding of ewe nutrition and led to changes in some feeding patterns. For example, if a pregnancy scan shows that a ewe is having twins, it is put into a different mob. "This allows us to tailor its nutrition during pregnancy and also ensures it has more shelter and feed at lambing time. We also feed ewes barley to increase their production of colostrum -- the first milk a ewe produces after birth, which is high in antibodies and energy." However, she says the biggest benefit has come in the past year. "I've managed hand-feeding a lot better -- I now adjust feeding according to their condition score." Knowing what condition the sheep needed to be in at critical times took out a number of variables, and a lot of the stress. "I knew what weight they could safely afford to lose and what level of hand-feeding was necessary to avoid unwanted consequences. I also knew I wasn't feeding out expensive grain unnecessarily." Maintaining stocking rates Keeping a high stocking rate through a challenging season was made possible last year for WA's Roger and Caroline Telfer through principles learnt in the Lifetime Wool program. The Telfers, who run a 1000-ha livestock and cropping operation at Darkan in southern WA, say learning to condition-score their flock was one of the most important aspects of the Lifetime Wool program. "When the sheep are in the yards I condition-score them, something I've become well trained at," Mr Telfer says. "Condition-scoring allows us to at least Feeding fundamentals By setting ewe nutrition and pasture targets, the Lifetime Wool program aims to increase the productivity and profitability of sheep enterprises across southern Australia Nutritional needs ú Reducing ewe nutrition in mid-pregnancy can reduce the size and functionality of the placenta, and restrictions during late pregnancy can reduce the growth rate and size of the foetus. ú Lifetime wool production and quality are also affected by ewe nutrition during pregnancy, with linear relationships between changes in ewe condition and the amount and quality of wool produced by single and twin lambs. Production and quality losses cannot be fully compensated for by improved nutrition after birth. ú An improvement in ewe nutrition in pregnancy also increases progeny fleece weight, while poor ewe nutrition increases progeny fibre diameter. ú Improved nutrition through lactation means bigger weaners and better weaner survival. A lamb born at five kilograms that grows at 200 grams a day will be about 20kg when weaned at 14 weeks. Having good feed on offer during lactation drives lamb growth. Lamb growth rates of 200g per day for single lambs are achieved when feed on offer is above 1100kg dry matter (DM) a hectare on mixed pastures in the high-rainfall zone, and 1500kg DM/ha on annual clover-based pastures. ú The effect of weaning weight on weaner survival is also important. Live-weight at weaning explains 95 per cent of the differences in weaner mortality. It is the most important factor in weaner survival.Weaner survival is best when the lamb is more than 20 kg (for a small-frame merino) or more than 25kg (for a medium-frame merino) at weaning. PHOTO: CAROLINE TELFER Lynley Anderson: "Lifetime Wool proved really beneficial in providing skills to manage a drought year." Roger Telfer: "When the sheep are in the yards I condition-score them."
Jun 07 - Jul 07
Feb 07 - Mar 07 Supplement