We need to build bulletproof lambs: this was the message Dr Jason Trompf gave to Queensland sheep producers.
Dr Trompf was speaking at an AWI Wool Clip workshop in Blackall this week where he encouraged producers to think about the factors that affect lamb survival.
Getting the combination of fat cover, nutrition and genetics right is essential to ensuring lamb survival.
Dr Trompf is a consultant specialising in sheep nutrition and reproduction. Based in Victoria, Dr Trompf says the principles of lamb survival are the same across the country.
"I can't stress enough the importance of scanning ewes during pregnancy," he said.
"Scanning for single and twin lambs means producers can make sure ewes are going into appropriate paddocks, with appropriate feed requirements.
"As producers, we need to focus on lifting twin survival rates.
This is the key to improving marking percentage and is typically the most profitable avenue to pursue to improve reproduction.
"National average lamb survival rates for Merino-to-Merino matings is 50 per cent for twins and 80pc for singles.
"With better ewe nutrition in late pregnancy, twin lamb survival can be lifted to in excess of 75pc."
Dr Trompf suggested producers look into AWI's Lifetime Wool Project-developed ewe management guidelines to improve ewe and lamb performance.
The project is now extended through Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM).
The condition score of ewes directly relates to the number of lambs born every increase in the ewe's condition score results in 20 more lambs on the ground.
Dr Trompf told producers the most important Australian Sheep Breeding Value (ASBV) to consider in relation to reproduction was yearling fat depth.
"This ASBV directly links to reproduction - for every extra millimetre of genetic fat, we'll get 25 more lambs on the ground," he said.
"As an industry, we have to think about the current trend towards breeding leaner ewes.
Heavier wool cutting, leaner Merino ewes are not going to give us the extra lambs needed, particularly under nutritional stress.
"It is the ewes with genetic fat that can buffer their performance when feed resources are limiting, which is critical to sustaining the performance under varying seasonal conditions."
Dr Trompf stressed sheep producers must be careful not to class the highly fertility ewes our condition of their flocks.
"The ewes that are born as a twin or out of maiden ewes may be up to 20pc smaller than their counterparts as hoggets, but genetically they may be superior.
"If you're just classing on size, you might be losing these valuable genetics.
Another factor the producers can influence is lamb birth weight birth weight drives survival.
"The last two months of pregnancy are key to lamb survival.
We have to make sure the ewes are getting adequate energy intake to maintain condition score in late pregnancy to enable foetus growth."
Producers can also control the size of mobs that lambs are born into, Dr Trompf said.
"We have research that shows that the bigger the mob size, the greater the chance of confusion and mismothering.
"It takes a ewe and lamb five hours to bond. The problems begin if the ewes start to drift away from the birth sight in this time.
"We have to get over the mindset of get one good lamb a year.
Thinking that way will mean that you continue to only get 75pc lambing rates. Often the males are overlooked in this equation.
"One thing I would say to Queensland sheep producers is to think about the time of year when joining rams. We know high temperatures have a negative impact on ram fertility.
"Rams shouldn't be over fat, but in good working order - if possible fed with lupins or beans for six to eight weeks before joining."
Public perception of lamb mortality is something as an industry we have to be mindful of, Dr Trompf said.
"We need to be on the front foot on this issue and should see this issue as an opportunity to be proactive."
Will Banks travelled to Blackall as a guest of AWI.
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