Nutrition and mating times key

Kate PollardThe West Australian

Nutrition and mating ewes at the right time of the year is key to high lambing rates, according to Kaya Dorper and White Dorper stud principal and commercial breeder Adrian Veitch, of Narrogin.

The veterinarian, known for introducing African breeds into Australia including Samms, Damaras and Boer goats, is a member of the 100%+ Lambing Club.

The More Sheep Initiative is a partnership between the Sheep Industry Leadership Council and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA to encourage producers to rebuild sheep numbers.

Prime lamb producers like Dr Veitch have been recording lambing percentages around 120 per cent.

With 500 stud Dorper ewes to manage, Dr Veitch also runs 1500 recipient ewes ranging from Dorper-cross, White Suffolk and White Suffolk-cross as well as Merinos as part of an embryo transfer program.

"Every year my top 100 ewes produce 1000 lambs through embryo transfer and I back them up with Dorpers over the recipient ewes," he said.

Ewes that do not hold an embryo hold a cross-bred lamb for the meat market.

To manage nutrition, Dr Veitch ensures ewes are mated on good pasture when they are naturally cycling and he does not use teasers. Lick feeders are used and standing oat crops are planted in winter and saved for mating in summer.

Dr Veitch said he had noticed that the later mating was held, from January to March, the higher the lambing percentage. He said mating was also focused on a shorter period of four to six weeks with a higher number of rams.

At mating, ewes are on a rising plain, in condition score 3 or 3.5. High lambing percentages have been recorded not just on older ewes, but maidens.

Two years ago, Dr Veitch said his maiden Dorpers lambed down at 160 per cent, rearing 120 per cent.

His crossbreeds normally lamb in August/September and this year he expects 150 per cent with around 120 per cent to be reared.

The difference in lambing and rearing is normally around 30 per cent, according to Dr Veitch, even in the stud, where it is a high management situation.

"I think everyone underestimates the percentage of lambs lost," he said.

"Even with pregnancy scanning, you will scan 150 per cent but only rear 120 per cent."

Dr Veitch said the losses were due to the time of year and could be influence by breed, mastitis and other conditions but were mostly due to mismothering. "It's quite staggering how much mismothering will happen," he said.

Quite often during labour, Dr Veitch said a ewe, including ET ewes, would go looking for a lamb and then end up with three, of which two often died.

"My argument was always, you can never wean 100 per cent if you don't get 130 per cent lambs born," he said. "It's mating management - getting the number of lambs in the ewes first is the main starting point."

To try to reduce losses, Dr Veitch runs his lambing ewes in big paddocks, so they can go off on their own, with plenty of shelter and little disturbance. Paddocks with good quality green feed are selected to help encourage ewes to stay on the birth site for 24 to 48 hours.

"If a ewe is going to be rearing twins, she has got to be lambing down on good and green feed," he said.

Pregnancy scanning is also important.

Maidens are scanned, with 95 per cent expected to conceive and the dries culled.

But Dr Veitch does not use scanning to split twins or singles.

"I manage everything like they are going to have twins, because if I look after the ones having single lambs really well, then next time around, they tend to have twins," he said. "It costs you more the first time around to look after them but next mating there are more lambs.

"It gives me more sheep to sell and a higher ability to cull, which makes a massive difference to profitability and it doesn't cost a lot more to do it the right way rather than the wrong way."

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