High fat may boost ewe condition

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Bob GarnantThe West Australian
Murdoch University research officer Sarah Blumer.
Camera IconMurdoch University research officer Sarah Blumer. Credit: Countryman

Selection for high-fat genetics in breeding sheep may improve ewe condition score at critical points, creating production benefits such as improving lamb survival.

That was the finding of Murdoch University research officer Sarah Blumer, whose studies focus on the feed and liveweight efficiency of adult ewes.

“The perfect ewe weans her own twin lambs every year, grows 5-6kg of wool and is dry feed efficient over summer after utilising winter’s green nutrition,” Ms Blumer said at the Open Day.

“Variation in liveweight change in the ewe flock during periods of poor nutrition can affect farm profitability through the effects of liveweight loss on potential stocking rate, management interventions including supplementary feeding, and ewe and lamb survival and productivity.

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“Seasonal conditions and management were the most important factors influencing liveweight change.”

Ms Blumer said there was scope to use breeding values to select sheep that would lose less weight during periods of poor nutrition in some environments.

“There is a positive relationship between condition score and sire Australian Sheep Breeding Values for post-weaning fat, and selecting for high fat allows ewes to maintain a higher level of body condition during a period of peak demand on their maternal tissues,” she said.

“We found that adult Merino ewes with a higher proportion of fat would be more efficient, through both lower intake and reduced weight loss.

“A better understanding of fat tissue deposition, its distribution and mobilisation in Merino ewes would be helpful to realise these potential benefits.”

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