Weaning management

This week’s focus supplement is sheep breeding. Every farm needs a defined breeding programme that matches the goals of the flock, be it enhancing prolificacy or breeding well-conformed lambs.

There is potential in many flocks to optimise the average litter size by having ewes in optimum body condition when joining with rams.

Research shows that each one unit increase in body condition within a range of 2.5 to 4 has the potential to increase the average litter size by 0.13 lambs per ewe joined.

For hill flocks, increasing the body condition of hill ewes from a score of 2 to 3 has the potential to increase litter size by 13.5%. This is achieved through a combination of a higher in-lamb rates and reduced levels of barrenness.

Efficient management to reach these goals starts at weaning. There is little point in letting ewes lose excessive condition post-weaning to then try and regain it at a later date.

There is an even greater benefit from making maximum use of feed resources this year given the sharp escalation in input costs.

The ideal scenario once ewes are sufficiently weaned is to split them in to at least two groups – a batch requiring preferential treatment to recover body condition and a group that can be offered maintenance levels of feeding and used to clean off paddocks after higher priority stock.

An intake of 1-1.1kg dry matter will be enough to meet maintenance demands.

Numbers in the preferential treatment group should ideally be below 20%. It is possible that many flocks will have a higher number of ewes requiring preferential treatment this year given lower volumes of concentrates may have been fed and grass supplies may have been tighter.

This reinforces the importance of assessing ewes regularly and getting groups promptly sorted post-weaning.

Grass supplies

Grass supplies vary across the country, with a growing soil moisture deficit limiting growth in some areas. In other areas swards that received little to no fertiliser have seen growth rates plummet.

Forecast rain will boost growth rates when combined with high soil temperatures but the extent of the increase will also be constrained by nutrient availability.

Try and capitalise on the likely lift in growth rates via targeted fertiliser applications.

Costs are high but even a small application will deliver a significant benefit and ensure the grazing season remains on track.

Highly stocked farms should be applying in the region of 15 to 25 units of fertiliser, depending on grass supplies and demand, while low stocked farms will still see a benefit from applying as little as 10 units of N and targeting areas capable of delivering the best response.

Store lamb presentation

Demand for store lambs appears to be building and is forecast to remain relatively solid, with less pressure on forage reserves in many areas and farmers returning to the market after a positive experience in the last two seasons.

Mart managers report presentation having a big influence on prices paid with evenly matched batches on size, type, weight, gender and presented clean attracting the most competition.

For those under pressure with grass supplies, the store lamb market may provide an avenue to reduce grass demand.

Worm control

Farmers should also be mindful that moisture will promote greater activity in worm larvae. The greatest risk is where grass supplies are tight and lambs are grazing at a low level.