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Beyond the Bale : Jun - July 08
tests drive ewe flocK Productivity Genetics Beyond the Bale culled, and carriers of twins and singles are then separated to be managed accordingly. “Repeatability of a ewe that fails to go in lamb in any one year is about 30 per cent,” Ross says. “So while that ewe may fall pregnant next year, there is a 30 per cent chance she won’t the year after. She will continue to lose you money in her lifetime.” Like any other trait, fertility is heritable and improves faster if there is a long genetic selection behind that trait. A simple formula the Baldwins apply for the treatment of pregnant ewes is, for example: if a mob of 100 ewes has a scan of, say, 50 per cent carrying twins and 50 carrying singles, and are put into a 30ha paddock, the twin carriers get 20ha and the singles 10ha (or two-thirds/one-third). They manage the flock nutrition to lamb-twinning ewes in 3.5 score and singles at 2.5 to 3.0 score. Ross stresses the importance of ewe carrying condition, or fat, in Merinos, particularly for ewes in lamb, and he believes it is essential to good mothering ability to have that store of fat to call on when there is a lamb at foot. “How can you finish a Merino wether lamb at 8 to 10 months if you have bred the fat off the breed?” All ‘Bundilla’ wether lambs are finished as prime lambs with a goal of having all off the property by 10 months, with an average carcase weight of 22 to 24kg. ‘Bundilla’ has been collecting bodyweight data since 1990, and muscle-scan data from 1996; information is processed through MERINOSELECT to give breeding values for carcase traits. The continued aim is to improve the early growth and muscling (carcase yield) that will directly benefit the prime lamb program. MERINOSELECT has also been a good source of information when importing outside genetics that complement the ‘Bundilla’ breeding objectives. “Our clients are saying they want a Merino breeding flock to have the genetic balance for a multi-enterprise production system, which is based on medium fine wool and quality meat production. In our commercial production we are also thinking this way. “We believe that we, and several other studs, are at the cutting edge of getting that balance right and the aim is to improve it further.” Until 2007, the Baldwin family joined 1000 ewes to terminal sires, and have now turned to 100 per cent Merino production. In 2007 ‘Bundilla’ Merino wether lambs were shorn and sold at eight through to 10 months of age, returning $86.58 a head in meat, $8.56 in skins and $24 worth of wool, a total return of $118 a head. “The prime Merino lamb returns were higher than the crossbred operation, indicating there is enormous potential for Merinos to offer sheep producers both meat and wool income streams provided we get the genetics right.” Ross says that resistance to internal parasites is a trait that growers using genetics to avoid mulesing should also be looking into. He says sheep with dirty backsides, or which are in poor condition due to high parasite burdens, are highly attractive to flies. The Baldwins plan their drenching program according to the results of regular fecal egg counts, and the result is not only more resistant animals, but also a lower cost of production. All ewes classed into the stud and all rams current at 12 months have worm egg counts collected. Any sires used in the stud must have lower than average worm counts. “Our philosophy is about minimising our risks,” Ross says. “The basis of achieving this is looking after the environment, our pastures and having a highly productive Merino flock. “If you look after your country and look after your animals, profitability will come from productivity. Even in dry, tough times, if you move back to the nucleus of your ewe flock, if they are productive, high fertility animals, it will not take you long to breed back to where you need to be.” ú Agricultural advisers suggest 2008 is an important year to make the best use of every available farm resource to generate cash flow. for many producers, the ewe flock is a key resource. And profitable producers’ secret to tapping ewe flock potential is to act early, not waiting till the end of lambing to match feed to fertility. dr Geoff hinch of the cooperative Research centre for sheep industry innovation (sheep cRc), which is co-funded by AWi, says these producers are using pregnancy-scanning contractors. “in the hands of skilled operators, there is no question about the reliability or accuracy of this technology, which is being used by a growing number of producers looking to drive productivity,” he says. dr hinch adds that the sheep cRc is aiming to work with scanning service providers to investigate what additional information could be provided at scanning time to make management easier and increase farm productivity. dr doug fowler is a pioneer of Australian scanning who became involved in 1985, when the technology was being developed for use on-farm. “i’ve scanned literally millions of sheep since then, and over the past five years we’ve had two teams in the field, each checking near 120,000 ewes from May to August,” dr fowler says. “A recent survey indicated that 30 per cent of responding producers said they had adopted scanning as a management practice. improved productivity through increased lamb survival is one of the more profitable actions for sheep producers, and they have the tools right here, now.” he says scanning can be used to lift marking percentages by up to 10 per cent, provided producers respond with a sound production system. “from my experience, i’d say that 80 to 90 per cent of producers just use scanners to determine pregnancy status,” he says. “that’s fine, and it does add value to farm management, but the real value of scanning is to determine if the ewes are single or multiple bearing.” dr fowler says producers who are using this level of information achieve both immediate and longer-term benefits. “Producers can extract or cull barren sheep, and budget to feed the single and multiple bearing ewes according to their special needs. “And in the years afterwards, scanning enables increased lamb turn-off, fewer ‘tail-end’ lambs, improved wool cut and wool quality, and accurate selection of fertile ewes.” dr hinch concurs, saying that scanning is a far more revealing tool than providing a ‘nothing or something’ rating. “it’s important to take one more step to confirm if the ewes are carrying single or multiple lambs, so best choice options for feed allocation and budgeting can be made,” dr hinch says. “if other measurements are considered at scanning – such as live weight, condition score and wool quality – and if these are then linked back to previous pregnancy status data, producers can make far better decisions about culling and management.” ú More information: www.sheepcrc.org.au sheep scanning service operator doug fowler scanning a ewe. Pho to: s hee P c R c Figure 1 A comparison of scanning and weaning rates per 100 ewes Bundilla 1-year average Mob to achieve 160% Mob scan wean wean (%) scan wean wean (%) Barren .2 ewes lactating 9.8 96 triplets 10.3 17. 170 1 26 170 twins 60.1 102.8 171 76 130 171 singles 2. 22.7 93 100 lambs 17. 13.0 202 160 Figure 2 Harden Rural Advisory 2004 financial analysis of the ‘Bundilla’ flock 10% increase in greasy fleece weight (GFW), wool value and growth, resulted in between 6 and 7% increase in gross margin (GM) Weaning 10% more lambs will increase gross margins (GM) by 9.3% 10% increase in GFW 10% increase in wool value 10% increase in growth 10% increase in lambs weaned 6.6% increase in GM 6.8% increase in GM 6.4% increase in GM 9.3% increase in GM 2004 ‘Bundilla’ flock ewes GM/DSE $37.11 GM/ha $445.31 DSE/ha 12 More information: Merinoselect, 02 6773 298; www.sheepgenetics.org.au Rick (left) and Ross Baldwin of ‘Bundilla Merinos’ at Young, nsW, with maiden ewes yarded for scanning.
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement
Aug - Sep 08