Weaner Management

Australian Wool Innovation

Type: PDF
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This guide helps to assist woolgrowers in recovering from drought through weaner management.

Weaner sheep are a key part of flock rebuilding strategies, so their management is incredibly important. This PDF from AWI looks at this topic and how we can achieve survival rates of 95 per cent from weaning until first year.

The key sections are:

  1. Section One

Critical weights in summer:

  • the most important concept for managing weaners is to get them to their ‘critical’ weight at the start of summer
  • once weaners exceed 23 kilograms, a small weight loss is less critical, provided they are in condition score two or more
  • the problem with most mobs of weaners is that live weights vary widely between the heaviest and lightest lambs
  • small liveweight changes which cannot be detected by eye can be critical, and for this reason, regularly weighing a sample of weaners is essential

2.  Section Two

Train lambs how to eat supplements:

  • feeding grain to ewes with adequate pasture may seem to be a waste, but the ewes will eat the grain, and in doing so will teach their lambs how to eat supplements
  • this training process tends to be specific for the grain fed while the lambs are on the ewes

3.  Section Three

Time of weaning:

  • by 12 weeks of age, milk only provides about 5-10 per cent of the dietary needs of the lamb: pasture provides the rest
  • by separating the lamb from the ewe, the lamb is able to graze the best of the feed itself
  • lactation requires a large intake of energy by the ewe
  • in practice, lambs are best weaned 13 weeks after lambing commences. This will mean most lambs are approximately 12 weeks old with the youngest lamb eight weeks old

4.  Section Four

Weaner worm control:

  • worms have a devastating effect on weaner profitability
  • good parasite control in the weaner is mandatory.
  • drenching and shifting to worm ‘safe’ paddocks is an important way to maximise productivity, while minimising the use of drenches

5.  Section Five

Weaner nutrition:

  • if weaners are not at above critical weights, they will need supplementary feed
  • all grains or roughages need to be tested for their feed value

6.  Section Six

  • if there is no green feed available, a protein supplement such as lupins or lucerne hay is necessary for those sheep under 23 kilograms
  • otherwise the diet will not have enough protein or energy
  • expenditure on supplements should be as little as possible and targeted to the group of sheep that require it most, and at the right time

What to feed:

  • the choices are either silage or cereal grain (oats, barley, wheat, and triticale) and/or lupins if there is only dry feed available in the paddock
  • lupin feeding is seldom necessary if the pasture contains a reasonable component of green feed

How often to feed:

  • feeding more frequently decreases the efficiency of grain and pasture utilisation because sheep substitute grain for pasture
  • also frequent feeding increases the number of shy feeders in a mob, because greedy sheep quickly consume the relatively small amount of grain when fed daily
  • spreading lupins once every two weeks through a super spreader saves a lot of labour

How much to feed:

  • for those weaners 23 kilograms and less, lupins will need to be fed out at least 2.5 kg/head/week, depending on pasture quality

7.  Section Seven

Case Study – Weaner management:

  • a reasonable target for weaner survival, from lambing to one year of age was 95 per cent. That meant 5-15% fewer weaner deaths, amounting to an extra 125 – 375 sheep at the end of the year

In conclusion, the guide states that it is best to concentrate on those and not get distracted by the other factors which, for this flock, may not have been a problem in the first place.

2003 - Australia - Australian Wool Innovation
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