Improving Sheep Efficiency through Weaning Nutrition

James Robertson - Nuffield Australia

Type: Report
Knowledge level: Intermediate

Farm Table says:

Focuses on different weaning strategies, including pen weaning.

Weaning Protocols for better feed conversion

This Nuffield study aimed to understand whether introducing starch into the diet of lambs was integral to the weaning process.

The following methodologies were studied:

  • Pen weaning using a high starch concentrate diet.
  • Small paddock weaning using a pellet based high starch diet with grazing available.
  • Transition from a milk replacement diet in calves to a starch supplement in grazing paddocks in a high rainfall environment.
  • Creep feeding lambs from two weeks of age and then removing the dam, allowing the lamb to remain in familiar surrounds.
  • Natural weaning in a semi arid mountain environment where the lambs remained with the dam permanently.

The key findings of the study were:

  • Starch is a key driver for early and enhanced rumen function and where possible should be integrated into a weaning protocol. While rumen function may not be permanently improved, when starch is present better feed conversion occurs.
  • Improved rumen function leads to earlier and more rapid weight gains in weaners allowing for improved use of high value pasture and potentially less methane emissions.
  • Pen weaning using a high starch diet can be useful providing the risks and costs have been identified.
  • Creep feeding in a weaning system is the most cost effective way to introduce starch to the lamb.
  • Weaning early, at 10-12 weeks, provides more opportunity for the ewe to be more productive the following year. Weaning early also reduces the dry matter intake and can therefore lead to higher stocking rates.
2013 - Australia - James Robertson - Nuffield Australia
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