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Beyond the Bale : December 2013
45 45 September 2013 BEYOND THE BALE ON-FARM 45 ON-FARM Ajourney around the world from South Australia’s Riverland was all driven by one thing for Nuffield scholar James Robertson – how to make more from his sheep. Specifically, James, whose family property Chowilla Station sits on the northern banks of the River Murray, wanted to see how high-starch diets might improve sheep production. “I set out to study an early weaning protocol using a high-starch diet, with the intention of permanently influencing rumen function in our lambs and weaners,” James explained. “The idea was to try and get a weaner that was more productive so we’d end up with a better ’feed converter’, resulting in a much heavier maiden ewe and therefore a more productive animal.” Firstly James went to New Zealand, where he met a farmer who had introduced a weaning strategy using starch to influence rumen function, and it was clear that he was getting some exciting growth rates. “However, ultimately once the starch Making more from paddock feed was removed from the diet, growth rates returned to normal, so it seemed clear that permanent change in rumen function wasn’t occurring,” he says. However, James was impressed with the measurement protocols the New Zealand operation had in place, with a ’fed’ mob and a control mob providing a good baseline assessment. “This particular operator determined that he was getting a higher growth rate in the lambs that were supplementary-fed with a high starch pellet compared to the control mob, to the extent that at the end of the weaning protocol process, which is nearly a month, they were 8 kilograms heavier,” James says. “That means with the addition of some starch, in the form of either cereal grain or pellet, you can make better use of your available paddock feed, and that was the key finding that I made.” He then went to the UK, where he researched models that significantly influenced how he has set up his system back home. “What I found was that dairy, beef cattle and sheep farmers were in many cases utilising starch to assist their animals with rumen development in order to make better use of their paddock feed and I thought that was a pretty good model that they used and ultimately that’s the direction I followed,” he explains. “At home, the first programs that I did in terms of trying to influence rumen development were done in a feedlot-type situation. “However introducing creep feeders to the weaning system and doing it in the paddock is probably the direction I want to go because of the less intensive need for labour and also less cost in terms of the amount of feed required.” AWI supported James’ Nuffield scholarship. More information: Watch a video of James presenting his findings at this year’s Nuffield Australia conference in Perth on the Nuffield Australia Vimeo channel at www.vimeo.com/76242838 www.wool.com/nuffield FAST FACTS l Woolgrower James Robertson from South Australia’s Riverland, who was the 2011 recipient of the Nuffield Woolgrower Scholarship sponsored by AWI, wanted to study how high-starch diets might improve sheep production. l He found that while a high- starch diet produces some exciting growth rates, when starch is removed from the diet, growth rates return to normal, ie a permanent change in rumen function doesn’t occur. l However, the key finding that he made was that with the addition of some starch, in the form of either cereal grain or pellet, you can make better use of your available paddock feed. James Robertson from South Australia studied the effects of a high-starch diet on sheep.