OPTIMISING fertility and lamb survival has been the main focus for one Yerong Creek sheep producer, and it is paying off with scanning rates of 175 per cent and upwards, and lamb survival figures of over 90 per cent.
Andrew and Jane Hunter join 4500 maternal composite ewes of Mount Ronan blood, York, Western Australia, on their property, Hills Park, Yerong Creek.
"On Mount Ronan bloodlines, with a focus on muscle, we have been able to get our carcase yield in lambs up to 54 per cent, while also producing an all round maternal sheep with good fertility and functionality," Mr Hunter said.
The Hunters focus on muscle and functional fertility, while working towards dropping the standard reference weight of their ewe flock (i.e. mature weight), which is now around 64 kilograms at condition score three.
"Ewe lambs that are twins or multiples are retained within the flock and joined to lamb at 12 months, with those that don't get in lamb culled to ensure fertility," he said.
Running maternal sheep means the Hunters are dependent on the fertility and lamb survival rates for profitability.
Mr Hunter started focusing on lamb survival four to five years ago, after it dawned on him there was nothing worse than going to all the drama of making sure his ewes were fertile if the lambs then weren't surviving.
"The biggest percentage of lamb losses happens in the first 12 hours," he said. "So it is all about doing the one percenters, making sure you are ticking all the boxes before, during and after lambing that you can.
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"We target lamb survival rates of 95pc for singles, which we consistently achieve, and 90pc for twins, which we get a lot of the time, and for triplets which we are still getting a handle on, (and) getting variable results."
The Hunters aim to start lambing in mid-July, and use teaser rams to concentrate the lambing within groups.
"Mature ewes are joined first, then ewe lambs are joined four weeks later to give them that extra month to mature before the rams go in," he said.
"Teasers have helped us to cut back our rams to 1.4 to 1.5pc, which allows us to make sure the rams we selected have the best genetics as we aren't buying as many, we can afford to pay a bit more."
They also pregnancy scan for singles and multiples, and for early and late lambers to ensure they can forward plan their management. "Knowing the birth status and when they are going to lamb is a big thing for lamb survival," he said.
"It allows precise management of your operation, and enables you to forward plan and physically manage tasks better, such as lamb marking."
In 2018, the Hunter's mature ewes scanned 204pc and this year they scanned 175pc.
He said scanning early and late helps with ewe management and getting the nutrition right, as feed availability can be targeted to match the lambing window.
With maternal sheep he said the worse thing producers could do is give them access to too much feed.
"The biggest mistake is having your ewes too fat with maternal sheep, they are very different to Merinos," Mr Hunter said.
"We are totally focused on getting them in the right order, but not too fat before they lamb. This means trying to present them with the right amount of feed leading up to and while they are lambing, so they can look after themselves. Our whole joining time is based around not having to supplement feed while lambing."
They focus on mob size and location when lambing, with the aim of breaking them down into singles and multiples, and early and late lambers.
"Multiples are run in mobs as close to 100 as we can. Singles we aim for 200 to 250 head in each mob," he said. "The exception to that is in our bush country where there are multiple lambing sites. We are more relaxed there, as ewes can find more privacy.
"It is important to have a number of lambing sites and features such as trees and contour banks within a paddock to allow ewes privacy, so they can tuck themselves away when lambing. We put a lot of effort into putting our multiples into our most featured paddocks, while the singles tend to lamb in the more open country."
The biggest thing to preventing lambing problems is ensure the body condition score (BCS) right, and keeping the calcium and magnesium supplements up to them before and during the lambing period.
"The single biggest thing you can do to work on lamb survival is having the BCS right, and it is different for singles and multiples," Mr Hunter said.
Grazing management varies according to the season, but they tend to rotational graze before the ewes lamb in a set stocking regime.
Managing lamb survival and mismothering after the first 12 hours for the Hunters means not going in to early when it comes to mustering and lamb marking.
"Maternal sheep are almost impossible muster while their lambs are small because they have a strong maternal instinct," he said.
"You really have to leave the lambs until the youngest are two to three weeks old.
"To mitigate lamb losses don't go in too early when marking. We start marking the earlies in late August and mark over a period of six to eight weeks."