A new research initiative is set to break new ground for sheep husbandry in a bid to further lift lamb survival and improve weaning rates.
Recognising the critical importance of reproductive success in the Australian sheep industry, Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) are collaborating to examine the effect of mob size and stocking density at lambing in a bid to lift lamb survival and therefore weaning rates.
This initiative is expected to deliver the basis for the next level of reproductive performance improvement for graduates of the very successful Lifetime Ewe Management course (LTEM), funded by AWI and delivered nationally through Rural Industries Skill Training.
According to AWI’s General Manager of Research, Dr Paul Swan, “The LTEM Program has typically been transformative for the growers who have graduated. The 2,100 AWI-funded LTEM graduates have improved their weaning rates by 7-10%, and simultaneously reduced their ewe mortality rates, by assessing and optimising ewe condition score, and identifying and differentially managing twin bearers.
“Yet while these performance gains are substantial, evidence has been mounting that the density of lambing ewes in the lambing paddock could also be having an influence on lambing outcomes, particularly the risk of mis-mothering.”
With existing best practices widely adopted across these businesses, researchers are confident that by filling this gap in the knowledge of the effects of lambing density, stocking rate and flock size on lamb survival, a new set of tools will be generated to lift lamb survival to the next level.
70 individual project sites will be established over two years in this on-the-ground research project, and all the research will take place on commercial wool growing and prime lamb properties. The locations will be across Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales to allow for a natural variation in other animal, management and environmental influences, and opportunities to expand the work into other states are being explored. Each of these sites will also be linked to a network of existing producers.
This initiative will be fronted by AWI reproduction specialist Dr Andrew Thompson, who was one of the original developers of LTEM, and who managed the preceding AWI-funded Lifetime Wool Production program. According to Dr Thompson, this initiative aligns well with the national Sheep Reproduction Strategy, and fills an important knowledge gap.
“We will deliver improved recommendations for sheep producers regarding the allocation of ewes to paddocks, paddock size, stock density and feed on offer during lambing. It will assist producers to make more informed decisions about the cost benefit of investing funds in paddock subdivision to improve reproductive performance and farm profitability.”
“If we succeed as expected, the payoffs for the industry will potentially be massive – improving the survival of single lambs by just 5% and twin lambs by 10% would improve industry wide farm profit by $250 million per annum’.