PERFORMANCE, not age, is the driving force behind a ewe’s production capability.
While running ewes in age groups is traditional practice, beyond maiden ewes there’s no advantage to splitting the flock based on age according to Sheep Matters principal Anthony Shepherd, Cootamundra.
Unproven maidens should be judged on actual lambs weaned, but after their first drop, identifying a clear production target was key, Mr Shepherd (pictured inset) said.
“You’ve got to understand what your end game is,” he said.
Keeping all ewes on a level playing field according to their performance would benefit the back pocket in the long run, he said.
An example is condition score.
“We’ve found there’s a lot of repeatability,” Mr Shepherd said.
“If the sheep is under a 2.7 condition score you will have a higher mortality rate in lambs born, and if they’re under 2.7 they’ll have reduced ovulation.
“There’s huge relationships with condition score and body weight, through to ovulation and weaning a lamb.
“Producers are understanding their sheep better... they’re seeing benefits in identifying productive traits by being more proactive.”
Lower condition score ewes could be revived pre-joining, Mr Shepherd said.
“Post weaning we’re actually taking out the lower condition score ewes and supplementary feeding those ewes to get them back up to a condition score of 3.0 to 3.2 for joining,” he said.
“If you already have ewes that are in that good condition post weaning and they’ve either lost a lamb or carried a single they don’t need the supplementary feeding, they’ll get over-fat and too heavy.
“The ones that need it have probably carried multiples – and you’re cutting out spending the resources on sheep that don’t need it by identifying the ones that need it.
Private consultant and producer Jason Trompf, Wangaratta, Victoria, said the primary reason producers ran ewes in age groups was for shearing, to keep wool types consolidated.
But the benefit was minor.
“The advantage of shearing three to five-year-old ewes in their age groups is marginal given the wool classer will develop lines of wool that will be added to from all those age groups, unless there has been a genetic change,” Mr Trompf said.
“Remember a ewe is shorn one day of the year but she is run on your farm the other 364 days.”
Mr Trompf said condition score had to be considered.
“Commencing from weaning ewes there is a big opportunity to run ewes based on condition score to drive feed allocation to fuel recovery post weaning,” he said.
Except maidens, once ewes reached mid-pregnancy he advised scanning and running mixed-aged mobs based on pregnancy status.
“If producers are willing to run mixed-aged mobs they can reap significant advantages for tailoring the ewes’ nutrition, like paddock feed or supplement, to the ewes’ requirements,” Mr Trompf said.
Lifetime Ewe Management program graduates had seen an increase in the number of lambs weaned per hectare and reduced ewe mortality – without having to increase supplementary feed because they’re run on a needs basis.
Further to considering how to run ewes, research was in progress as to the impact of mob size and stocking rate at lambing.
Mr Trompf said to date results had found smaller mobs at lambing had reduced mis-mothering.
From tradition to technology at Tallimba
TALLIMBA producer Ian Bell, “Glenell”, says there is no particular reason he runs his ewes in age groups – it is simply tradition.
But new technology will soon shift the way he splits his flock.
Mr Bell runs a 2000 hectare mixed farming enterprise, which includes about 3000 ewes, half of which are joined to Merinos and half to White Suffolks.
He has tagged them with electronic identification (EID) tags to gather information for four years, which he will start to use this year after purchasing a Gallager HR5 hand held EID tag reader and data collector.
“I run my mobs in age groups at the moment and there’s no real reason for that; I run maidens together anyway but if I can gather information I could run them in mobs based on wool or meat,” Mr Bell said.
“I ask myself, why do I do something a certain way? Is it because everyone else does? The information might tell me what mobs will be better together.”
A Bred Well Fed Well workshop held at Ungarie in June challenged producers to think about the structure of their sheep operation.
“I always condition score my sheep in the yards but I’m looking for the top 50 per cent profit makers. I’m going to get rid of charity sheep and every one per cent profit is what you’re after, pulling sheep up to your benchmark,” he said.
Mr Bell said ewes with twins were run in a mob of 200 ewes while the maximum per mob was 400.
His priority was to get healthy lambs on the ground after he lost 100 lambs in a mob of 400 two years ago.
“We lambed in a 76ha paddock that had a quarter of a hectare of shelted. They all wanted to lamb in the same area with rock boulders and trees. We had 100 lambs dead – it was a disaster,” Mr Bell said.
“The last few years we’ve been too busy to scan, and we didn’t have enough paddocks to separate them accordingly. With this stick reader it will be much easier to separate them after lambing.”
“Gathering more information could mean I could start to run mobs to what suits, whether that be multiple and singles, early and lates, or whether or not they’re a good mother.”