Strong lamb prices and low supply mean that many producers are keen to build flock numbers, but what’s the best way to do it?
Sheep CRC postgraduate student Cesar Rosales Nieto is looking at whether joining Merino ewes earlier, at 8–10 months rather than the traditional 18 months, may provide the solution.
Cesar’s research is aimed at developing guidelines to achieve consistent and cost-effective reproductive performance from Merino ewes joined at 8–10 months.
“My research is important because it addresses an aspect of the production system that has the potential to improve efficiency for sheep producers,” he said.
“The sheep industry needs to improve the reproductive efficiency of the ewe flock to meet current and future demands for replacement ewes for flock rebuilding, slaughter lambs, mutton and live export.”
His research project started in 2009 and is funded by the WA’s Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA), MLA and the Sheep CRC, and also involves Murdoch University and the University of WA.
Cesar began his research journey in Mexico, his country of birth. With a bachelor degree (honours first class) from the University of San Luis Potosi (Faculty of Plant and Animal Science), he studied the relationship between reproduction and nutrition in Creole goats for his honours project.
He worked at Mexico’s National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP) as a researcher until 2004 when he went to Texas A&M-Kingsville to undertake a master’s degree in Animal Science. He was accepted for his PhD in 2009.
“Basically my research interests are in reproduction and nutrition of small ruminants.
Since I started working here in Australia my interests have expanded to different areas such as genetics and this combination fits perfectly with the Australian industry,” Cesar said.
“Previous research has shown that it is possible to mate Merino ewe-lambs at 8–10 months of age but the results are highly variable. It is therefore important to develop management guidelines to improve the likelihood of success.
“Our research shows that under the right management conditions fertility rates above 75% can be achieved.”
To reach these high fertility rates Merino ewelambs need to be more than 45 kilograms at the start of joining as well as gaining more than 100 grams per day during the joining period.
This requires good nutritional management as well as the right genetics for good growth rate. Lambing a year earlier, through joining at 8–10 months of age, can increase the lifetime reproductive performance of a ewe by around 20%.”
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