Keeping lambs alive in dry

Condition scores and scanning serve growers

Sheep
The Bradleys divide their mobs on condition scores at key times throughout the year.

The Bradleys divide their mobs on condition scores at key times throughout the year.

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A lambing of 184 per cent in drought proved record keeping and data serves growers' bottom line.

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IN THE middle of one of the worst droughts in living memory the Bradleys on New Armatree managed lambing results of 184 per cent in one mob, after they were let onto a saved lucerne paddock following a 40-millimetre rain event in March.

This was shortly after Lambs Alive founder Jason Trompf first set foot on the Armatree-based property last year.

There had been deficits compared with average rainfall in both 2018 (271mm for the year) and 2019 (161mm).

When he caught up with Craig and Jenny Bradley this year there had been 420mm for the year and the place looked better than it had for years.

Despite the tough conditions, Mr Trompf's visit in May last year to review five properties in the area was welcomed.

The five property owners first came together when they went through the Australian Wool Innovation's Lifetime Ewe Management course, a two-year program meeting six times a year.

Jenny Bradley says New Armatree is full steam ahead.

Jenny Bradley says New Armatree is full steam ahead.

Mrs Bradley said Mr Trompf's visit put their heads in a better space before lambing with no food on offer.

"Jason offers the complete package, to get ewes to produce as many live lambs as possible," she said.

Mr Trompf advocates for scanning and then feeding accordingly, delegating lambing paddocks and then reviewing those paddocks and performance.

He said the Armatree area was quite different to intensive operations in the south, which had smaller paddocks and consistent pastures.

"Up there you have a cross section of pasture types and the paddocks are much bigger," he said.

"It's not like you're going to be bringing mobs in every other day so you have to coordinate with other critical times, drenching, marking etc."

He said sentinel mobs near the yards could be monitored more often and that could offer up a picture of what was likely going on in other paddocks.

"In the south feed budgeting can be relied on," he said.

He believed it was far more efficient to feed early rather than late.

"Maintenance feeding might be 3kg of cereal grain per animal, but if they get poor, you'd be talking 7kg of feed per kilo of body weight to put condition back on," he said.

Around Armatree the season didn't get you out of jail compared with the south, he explained.

Scanning during pregnancy was important along with what was fed and why.

But the key principles remained the same no matter the geographical location, producers had to be disciplined and focused.

"For example this season if you've got excess nutrition you can lose lambs because they get too big, whereas the last few years it's been all about feeding more to lift twin bearing ewe and lamb survival rates," he said.

More than 420mm of rain this year has things kicking.

More than 420mm of rain this year has things kicking.

The Bradleys eventually marked 105 per cent of lambs to ewes joined in 2019.

They divide their mobs on condition scores at key times throughout the year.

This year there was a rain event in February and Mrs Bradley said they were tempted to let the ewes out of the containment lots they had been calling home.

They joined about 1200 Merino cull ewes to Border Leicester rams at the end of January. In good conditions they would normally join 1500 Merino ewes.

Conditions were atrocious with a couple of dust storms a week, Mrs Bradley said.

During joining there were three consecutive days when the mercury topped 45 degrees Celsius with overnight lows of no less than 30C.

The Bradleys were targeting 150 per cent foetuses, and managed 145pc.

Incredibly enough, 95pc of the ewes were joined in the first three weeks of a five-week joining.

They put that down to having maintained containment, because the rams didn't have to move too far and risk overheating.

The containment lots proved a double plus in the end, allowing the Bradleys to maintain ground cover across much of the 1500-hectare New Armatree.

"It wasn't cheap, but in retrospect we would do it again," Mrs Bradley said.

"We've hit the ground running and are back to full production."

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