Call to improve on the nation's lamb losses

Annabelle Cleeland
By Annabelle Cleeland
May 11 2022 - 9:00pm
Scan to lamb: Consultant and sheep producer Jason Trompf presented a workshop at Alex Graham's Cosgrove property on lamb survival techniques. Photo by Karen Brisbane-Bullock.

Producers can reap more than 400 per cent return on investment for scanning pregnant ewes.

That's according to consultant and sheep producer Jason Trompf, who told a lamb survival workshop at Cosgrove that management decisions based on scanning information could be worth $1 billion to the $7.2-billion sheep industry.

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Research conducted by The University of Adelaide and farm economist John Young revealed pregnancy scanning ewes for the number of lambs they were carrying could provide a benefit of at least $5.75 a ewe.

"However currently one-third of Australia's ewe base is acting as glorified wethers - they either don't get pregnant, die or fail to rear a lamb," Mr Trompf said.

"Applying the industry averages to a flock of 1000 ewes joined, you only get 680 of the ewes that actually rear at least one lamb, making one-third of your flock very expensive to run, yet the potential is to have more than 90pc of the ewes you join actually rearing lambs.

"Only 25pc of Australia's ewe flock is scanned for multiples, and only 80pc of those scanned are deferentially managed according to their requirements and lambing status, hence barely 20pc of our ewes are managed to their requirements."

The wastage has the potential to get worse as the industry selects ewes for higher scanning rates.

"Very few producers are paid on scanning percentage - we are paid on how many live lambs hit the ground, survive and thrive," Mr Trompf said.

The biggest opportunity was improving twin lamb losses, he said, with differential management for single and multiple lambing ewes increasing weaning rates on commercial farms by 14pc.

The biggest causes of lamb loss were inadequate or excess nutrition and lambing in the wrong environment.

He advised the workshop attendees to scan ewes to allocate sheep to the optimal lambing paddocks, considering pasture quality, shelter, privacy, paddock size and aspect.

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"Single bearing ewes can lamb in larger mobs on lower-quality pasture with lower feed availability because their lambs' birth weights are higher so they can cope with being born in more exposed environments," he said.

"For every 100 ewes extra in a mob of singles that only affects the marking rate by 1pc per 100, whereas if you have the equivalent increase in mob sizes with twins, it can deliver a 5pc loss in the marking rate.

"Twins bearing ewes should be lambed in smaller mob sizes resulting in less mismothering."

Mr Trompf recommended allocating twins and triplets to private and secluded areas of the farm, away from roads, laneways, machinery sheds and dog kennels, to enhance bonding between ewe and lamb.

Scan to lamb: Consultant and sheep producer Jason Trompf presented a workshop at Alex Graham's Cosgrove property on lamb survival techniques. Photo by Karen Brisbane-Bullock.

"They need the high-quality pastures to meet higher energy requirements," he said.

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"Shelter is crucial for triplets because they have the lowest birth weight and are vulnerable to chill conditions - wind, low temperatures and rainfall.

"Anything you can do to cut wind speed will help the survival of triplet lambs but then the challenge is to also have adequate nutrition and privacy available too."

The most effective time to set the ewe and lamb up for success is immediately off the scanning crate at day 75-80 of pregnancy.

"We need to preferentially feed twin bearers and restrict singles, so twins lamb at least half a condition score higher than singles," he said.

"It is imperative to start this differential management as early as possible in the pregnancy.

"The first conversation about lifetime productivity has to be about surviving the first 48 hours of life and genetics have a key role to play in that."

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Twin mob sizes were at least 50pc less than single-bearing ewes on the same farm.

"Optimal mob size for twins can range from as few as 20 ewes in a mob to more than 100 ewes, depending on sheep type, stocking rate and the cost of fencing/water to subdivide paddocks," he said.

Annabelle Cleeland

Annabelle Cleeland is a Stock & Land journalist. She has worked at Australian Community Media for more than a decade serving in a number of roles including editor, senior journalist and national sheep & wool writer. She runs a fine Merino wool property with her young family in North-East Victoria.

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