Take a step back and look at what you can do to improve your flock next year
Published 07/12/2011 | 06:00
Sheep farmers are at the start of another production year and hopefully it will be another good one. While it may be a conundrum for politicians, it is generally necessary for farmers to take a look back to make the best of going forward.
What went well? What requires improvement? Was lamb or ewe mortality an issue? Was there a problem with grass growth? Was there a problem with lamb growth and lamb drafting? Prioritise one or two of the main issues and seek out ways to improve these. My priorities for next year are to move to a twice yearly shearing and to change the current system of rearing triplet lambs on their mothers.
We have been winter shearing for more than 20 years and find it highly satisfactory. The biggest advantage is the 0.4-0.5kg increase in lamb birthweight. This is particularly important where there is a high proportion of triplets and results in less mortality. The increase in birthweight is a combination of the ewes taking in more food and the lambs being carried for an extra 1.5 days. As pregnancy advances, the metabolic processes of the ewe increase to provide the necessary foetal nutrients and this results in more heat being produced. This heat cannot be entirely dispelled through the skin because of the insulating properties of wool, so affected ewes end up breathing faster. This can be quite dramatic in late pregnancy during periods of mild weather. Shearing reduces body temperatures and respiration rates and basically results in the ewes being more comfortable.
The other advantage with winter shearing is that you can house more ewes. However, concentrate trough space is more critical because of its effect on feed intake and it is essential that all ewes can eat concentrates at the one time.
Yet another plus from shearing pregnant ewes is that it makes it easy to observe ewe condition so that feed levels can be adjusted relatively quickly.
In addition, ewes without heavy fleeces move easier within the pens, are easier to footbath and to administer the pre-lambing booster vaccine. The onset of lambing and any difficulties are also more readily seen.