A survey led by Charles Sturt University's Dr Susan Robertson, from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, has found lamb marking percentages varied significantly for producers feeding ewes in containment or supplementary feeding at some stage over the reproductive cycle.
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Dr Robertson conducted the national survey last year to understand how producers were managing ewes in containment and whether some husbandry practices resulted in better lamb marking rates.
"Containment feeding has been very widely used recently because of the drought and obviously droughts are going to continue in Australia so we want to understand what practices might increase ewe productivity or reduce risks to ewe health," Dr Robertson said.
"This information is needed to develop more robust guidelines."
The 43 responses from the survey showed adult Merino ewes fed in containment had pregnancy scanning rates between 78 and 95 per cent, averaging 88pc, while the percentage of lambs marked to ewes joined ranged from 60 to 115pc.
In the non-Merinos, 95 to 99pc were scanned in lamb, while lambs marked was 82 to 161pc.
The average condition score of ewes in containment was reported to be between 2.5 and 3.5; Dr Robertson said this meant producers were looking after their ewes, which you would expect considering how valuable they currently are.
"There is a wide range of results, but what the survey shows us is that containment or supplementary feeding does not prevent very good results from being obtained, even in drought years," she said.
"Producer experiences were variable though, with some producers reporting either higher or lower reproductive performance compared with normal grazing years."
Dr Robertson said producers who took part in the survey were asked about the ration they were feeding, whether they had shade, what health practices, like vaccinations or drenching, were carried out, what size mobs ewes were running in and the number of rams to ewes when joining, among other factors.
"Cereal grains and hay or straw were the typical diet fed when feeding," Dr Robertson said.
"Producers can reduce the risk of health issues by including some sort of roughage in grain diets, supplementing with calcium (eg. limestone), and vaccinating for clostridial disease (pulpy kidney).
"The frequency of feeding also varied significantly and whether people were trail feeding or using a feeder."
Dr Robertson said as the survey showed a range of practices produced good results, they would need more responses to determine the optimum practices for ewes in containment.
"We thank all the producers who took part in the survey and are continuing to investigate this at Charles Sturt with trials currently underway," Dr Robertson said.
In the meantime, an updated guideline for managing breeding ewes in containment, by Dr Robertson, has been published on the Meat and Livestock Australia here.
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