Lamb survival importance stressed

Rebecca TurnerCountryman

Increasing the number of lambs weaned is the main thing Australia’s lamb industry should be striving for.

This was the key message at the Meat and Livestock Australia Making More From Sheep forum in Northam last week.

Victorian lamb producer and industry specialist Jason Trompf told the forum that one thing that had remained static in the Australian sheep and lamb industry in the past 20 years was the lamb marking rate.

“The average Australian lamb marking rate has remained at 80 per cent over the past 20 years, while in that time our closest competitor, New Zealand, has increased its average marking rate by 30 per cent, ” Dr Trompf said. “We need to sustain turn-off rates in the industry, otherwise our markets will be impacted and so too will the affordability of our product.”

Dr Trompf said less than two thirds of lambs conceived in Australia were surviving. Most died in their first two days of life.

He said producers had to scan for multiples if they wanted to get a handle on the problem.

“It is your choice to manage your ewes to get an average or above average marking rate, ” Dr Trompf said.

“This is a welfare and production issue.”

Dr Trompf said the only way to improve reproductive efficiency was to ensure ewes conceived more twins and that their survival was ensured.

“The idea of having more singles and managing them to survive is going out the window because you will still have 15 per cent dry ewes in your flock, ” he said.

“Feeding for lamb survival starts before the ewe even meets the ram.”

Dr Trompf said the number of lambs born depended on ewe condition score at joining.

“For an increase of one condition score for every 100 ewes joined an extra 20 lambs are born, ” he said. “Condition score three is a fit sheep not a fat sheep.”

Dr Trompf said when it came to ensuring lamb survival, lamb birth weight was the main driver with good nutrition in the third trimester essential.

“Having a higher condition at lambing improves twin survival, ” he said. “For every 5m the ewe moves off the birth site in search of food during the first few hours of that lamb’s life, its ability to survive drops dramatically.”

Dr Trompf said if there were a lot of twin-bearing ewes, mob sizes needed to be reduced to improve survival rates. He said the maximum mob size for twinning ewes should be less than 200 head per paddock and less than 400 head for single bearing ewes.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA’s Mark Ferguson said to increase marking rates of lambs the answer could be found in flock genetics.

“Genetically you can change a whole list of things in your flock, ” he said. “What is important is for you to work out in your business what will give you the most bang for your buck.”

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