Maximizing the Reproductive Potential of the Merino From Conception to Weaning

Tim Gubbins - May 2016 Nuffield Australia Project No 1419

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

Super interesting report from Nuffield scholar, Tim Gubbins. Definitely, check out the whole report to understand what the best producers are doing to increase lamb survival.

What is the problem?

This research has been viewed through the lens of a Merino producer.

This research aims to find ways to improve the following national lamb survival figures:

  • currently, 80% nationally lamb survival rate
  • on average 30% of all lambs born will die prior to weaning
  • this costs an estimated $56 million dollars.

To do so, this study aims to investigate the best practice in sheep breeding systems from Australia and the world. It is also designed to assist sheep producers who are seeking to improve their lamb survival outcomes by reducing lamb losses from conception to weaning.

What were the key findings/recommendations?

  • Body Condition Scoring (CS) at weaning and prioritizing feed for the thinnest ewes.
  • Six weeks before joining ewes must be in good condition (above CS 3).
  • Ten days before joining are the first part what is referred to as the “20 golden days”. This also includes the first ten days of joining. Maintaining the correct high-value nutrition during this period will have the biggest effect on the outcome of mating and the profitability of the business.
  • Pregnancy scanning at about day 70. Condition scoring at this time will identify poor CS ewes and give time to get them back up to the target CS of 3+. It is also important to note that the person most skilled in CS identification should be the one pushing the ewes into the scanning crate to correctly identify and mark light ewes.
  • In the final 35 days before lambing, the fetus grows rapidly and the ewe’s udder gets ready to produce milk. A strong, healthy lamb that is up and suckling within 15 minutes of being born has a 90-95% chance of still being alive 90 days later. At this stage of pregnancy, the ewe requires the highest quality grass available.

Final Comment

  • Nutrition is everything: meeting the correct nutritional level required by the ewe is essential and drives the whole system. Increasing condition score of a lambing ewe from 2.2 to 3.2 equates to approximately 10% increase in single lamb survival.
  • Increase the birthweight of lambs: This is the number one factor influencing lamb survival. A strong, healthy lamb that is up and suckling within 15 minutes of being born has a 90-95% chance of still being alive 90 days later. Each extra kilogram of birth weight results in an extra 3.2 kg of lamb at weaning.

The author states that “Despite the marked improvement in ewe and lamb nutrition, management and health control, this high post lambing mortality rate does not appear to have changed significantly during the past decades and it remains an intractable problem”.

2016 - Australia - Tim Gubbins - May 2016 Nuffield Australia Project No 1419
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