PENDARRA POINT OF VIEW.
A little difficult to read the happenings of the past 12 months with prices for lamb falling significantly, uncertainty about whether we are due for another El Nino event and grain prices actually showing some signs of becoming economically acceptable.
The correction in lamb prices was one that we had all been expecting, and while it has taken some adjustment following the dizzy heights of last year, lamb prices are still at a level that we can be confident will provide sustainable returns if managed correctly and the right genetics are sourced. Even at $6+ per kilo, independent benchmarking indicated some producers had costs of production in excess of those prices so management has more to do with profitability than the end price at the saleyard or processor. Lamb producers need to have some idea of their cost of production and always be mindful of staying within your means of production; stay within you area of confidence in relation to turnoff weights and feeding regimes. If you look at the current price structure for heavy lambs compared to trade lambs, why would you attempt to grow out lambs to heavy weights when the price per kilo falls significantly? If you have the available feed great, but if you have to supplementary feed…..?
Many reading this newsletter will have experienced the extremes that farming inflicts upon us with once in a lifetime rains in March. We sincerely hope that not too much hardship was the result of flooding and that all has returned to normal given that damage to fencing and infrastructure takes time and expense to repair. Now they are attempting to tell us we could be in for another El Nino event. Given the good subsoil moisture resulting from March rainfall, most crops are in and looking OK and will have moisture reserves to draw upon should the season dry up and with prices increasing for grain worldwide, we could see some good returns for cropping despite the gloomy outlook when crops were sown. Heavy frosts and lack of consistent rain has seen pasture growth slow considerably with many sheep producers supplementary feeding ewes and lambs.
Generally, the sheep industry in Australia is well into the rebuilding phase with increasing ewe numbers recorded for the past 12 months. The intention of a majority of sheep producers is to continue increasing numbers and with the reduction in replacement costs, this is becoming more affordable. There was a slight swing back to merino production last season as producers opted to increase breeding stock and perhaps encouraged by the fleeting rise in wool prices. While the intention of many farmers is to achieve a better balance between cropping and livestock enterprises, much will depend on returns from cropping, especially Canola, as the capital cost of cropping has to be justified.
Much is happening in the lamb industry that substantiates the excitement and confidence that is being felt. DNA testing is one area that has the sheep industry worldwide looking at Australia with envy. Keep watch for further developments.
GENETIC INFORMATION INCREASING
Our previous newsletters have reported on the work being carried out under the Sheep CRC research program. The Sheep CRC is due to finalise its research in the near future but the findings of over the past 5 years will continue through the commercialization of technology such as DNA testing for a whole range of traits including those that we already physically measure and record. Through Lambplan, we have been able to accurately benchmark our genetics for important areas such as weight (growth), fat and muscle (carcase suitability) as well as areas such as birth weight and worm resistance. DNA testing not only gives added accuracy to these measurements but also opens up a whole new area of genetic selection in relation to meat eating quality and meat nutrition with perhaps more new areas to be developed. For several years now, we have been involved in DNA testing our sires as part of the Sheep CRC pilot programs and have also had a significant proportion of our sires tested through the Sheep Genomics program and the Information Nucleus Flock. It is pleasing to note that the White Suffolk breed is significantly above average for meat eating quality and Pendarra genetics are at the top end of the breed with several sires leading the industry for meat eating quality. Needless to say, DNA testing adds a new component to our breeding strategy and we are encompassing the latest technology and using it to further improve the genetic capabilities of our sheep.
What will it mean to commercial lamb producers? In the short term, probably very little but it is interesting to note that future research in this area is being supported by those involved in meat processing Australia wide (AMPC) and Woolworths have just initiated MSA grading on lamb. It would not be to much of a dream to envisage that in future a premium would be paid to commercial lamb producers using genetics that are from genetically superior sires for meat eating quality traits such as tenderness and intra muscular fat. The research into this area does not stop there and areas such as meat nutrition in relation to Iron, Zinc and Omega 3 levels are also heritable with significant variation both between breeds and within breeds. Traits such as meat colour, taste and shelf life of lamb are also being researched with the same variation. Imagine lamb that would withstand an extra 4 days on the shelf without discolouration and what that is worth to the lamb industry…. $$Millions. Would processors and retailers pay a premium for these genetics?; More than likely if they could secure a good consistent and reliable source of these types of lambs.
With the possibility of a means of selection for a whole new range of traits that cannot be measured by any other means, there is potentially a new direction for the promotion of lamb and what it can offer to consumers. The on farm price of $6+/Kg was beginning to have an impact on consumer consumption but only if the product was not up to expectations. It has been shown that if quality can be guaranteed, price is not a deterrent so genetics that ensure tender, great tasting lamb that is nutritionally beneficial will always demand a premium price.
The future of the lamb industry has never looked so exciting, you just have to get on board and go along for the ride!
LAMBING - THE CRUCIAL TEST OF MANAGEMENT
Lambing time is final result that is the culmination of all the management decisions that have preceded this event. Get it wrong pre lambing and you are locked into many days of disappointment and ultimately lower returns. So what can be done to ensure you maximse the number of lambs that make it through to sale?
The task of getting ewes (and rams) to the correct condition for joining is the first consideration to ensure good lambing percentages. While this can be largely dependent upon seasonal factors, there are some simple practices that can be carried out to ensure the best chance of higher conception rates. The ideal condition score for joining is around 3, not too fat/not too lean and this cannot be just an estimate from 200 paces out the window of the ute. You have to actually get the ewes yarded and assess them. Supplementary feeding with lupins just prior to joining will increase conception percentages by around 10-15%, the use of teasers will significantly condense lambing.; All measures that will prove advantageous at sale time. So you have a range of condition scores in the ewes and you have checked them for teeth and udders; It would now be useful to even up condition scores by dividing the ewes into two groups and adjusting feed requirements accordingly. This will depend on the extent to which condition scores vary but a range of between 2.5 to 3.5 is OK. If too fat (5) or too lean (1) some measures need to be taken to ensure good conception. Remember, cost of additional feeding at this stage will be repaid once lambs begin to hit the ground. If you are joining ewe lambs, they have to be at least 45Kg live weight and there seems to be some evidence that ewe lambs that have had a charmed life or have been overfed to this weight have reduced fertility due to “fatty udder” syndrome. There is also evidence of a maturity barrier for ewe lambs regardless of their live weight and delaying joining for a few weeks past when you consider them ready often yields rewards. The issue of joining ewe lambs is a whole new ball game and requires a little more fine tuning.
Ewes are ready to go and hopefully the rams have all been checked as fit and sound. The old saying that ‘fit and healthy rams are only 2% of your flock but unhealthy rams are you entire flock” is very true. Once again, some supplementary feeding of rams with lupins prior to joining is a good practice. While the percentage of rams to ewes varies depending upon preferences, 2% is a good safe average and rarely fails to produce good condensed lambing. There have been many reported situations over the past few years where low conception rates have been reported with causes ranging from over fat ewes, high mosquito populations causing infertility in rams through to extreme heat or prolonged periods of rain. Judgments allowing for these factors have to be made and unfortunately not all can be predicted. Ensure that all sheep management practices such as shearing, crutching and dipping are designed around lambing schedules so as not to interfere with ewes during critical times. Once the rams have been placed with the ewes, do not supplement with high protein feed. The jury is still out on this topic but there is evidence to suggest that high protein diets during joining reduces conception rates.
If all has been managed well, a 6 week joining should be sufficient, some evidence indicates that the gains to be made past a 5 week joining are insignificant. Managing ewe nutrition from the time the rams are taken out to lambing is crucial, perhaps not immediately but definitely in the last 6 weeks prior to lambing. To ensure good birth weights, especially in multiples, the additional requirements the unborn lamb(s) place on the ewe have to be accounted for in feed calculation. To attempt to ration feed requirements here will result in higher lamb mortalities (and ewe nutritional deficiencies) and consequently a reduction in live lambs to weaning. Scanning ewes after 40 days past the removal of the ram is a sure way to ensure that ewes carrying multiples are catered for and also gives an early warning if anything went wrong at conception. Not much joy if 3 weeks after lambing should begin, there is no sign of any lambs. If your scanning does not identify multiples, many would suggest you are wasting the time and cost of scanning as it will only allow possible sale of the dry's and an indication of how successful joining was. No management advantages come from just scanning wet/dry ewes.
Multiples have been identified, management practices put into place to account for feed requirements, so lambing should go according to plan. Obviously many things will affect the amount of interference required during lambing; the worst scenario is supplementary feeding during lambing which creates a new set of problems in relation to lamb mortality. Try to keep lambing mobs to around 150 -200 ewes as there is a train of thought that sheep can recognise no more than 150 individuals and mobs larger than this has been shown to increase mis-mothering and confusion amongst ewes resulting in higher lamb mortality. Recent research has indicated that lamb behavior at birth has a higher influence on lamb mortality than the maternal behavior of the ewe. I am not sure this applies to some Merino ewes I have seen be there is no doubt that healthier, more vigorous lambs will have a greater chance of survival than lambs that are slow to get going. Don't underestimate the affect of difficult births on lamb survival and evidence from the Sheep CRC suggests that over 50% of lamb mortality can be attributed to damage to the lamb's nervous system at birth. As a rule of thumb mortality in singles should not exceed 10%, or 20-25% in multiples. Obviously the more lambs you can get through to weaning, the higher the profit margin. While there will be reasons for some exceptions, producers should be aiming for weaning percentages above 100% and many producers are achieving numbers well above this figure.
More lambs to weaning results in more $$$$ in your bank account and greater profit margins.
There are a number of workshops and courses that producers can access to learn more about ewe management and maximizing returns from their sheep enterprise. Lifetime Ewe Management is a course designed to improve skills associated with ewe nutrition and pasture management. Go to the Sheep CRC website for more details.
Bred Well Fed Well is a free hands on one day workshop designed to provide information on breeding and feeding to improve profit margins.
We are hosting a Bred Well Fed Well workshop at Pendarra on 16th August and invite all our ram clients to attend. The workshop runs from 9.30am to approximately 4.00pm. See separate brochure with this newsletter.
WHAT'S HAPPENING AT PENDARRA
Our involvement in research has been evident in the past 12 months with all our potential sires being DNA tested for meat eating quality and these results will play a role in potential selection of sires for the 2013 joining. It will now be our intention to DNA test every sire we use at Pendarra. We are fortunate to have several of the leading sires for eating qualityat Pendarra providing us with a good base to select from. In addition to our DNA testing, 8 of our sires were selected for inclusion in the Information Nucleus flock and several of our leading sires are being trialed in meat eating quality trials across Australia. Based on the performance of our young ram lambs, we have made a decision to use predominantly 2011 drop rams for next year's joining with some outstanding young rams identified.
Last year's lambing provided an exceptional result with 189% lambs and a difficult to manage 70+ sets of triplets. Despite good lambing conditions, we had some lamb mortalities due to high concentrations of lambs in a stubble paddock that provided perhaps too much cover. Just when you think you have got it right, there is something else to test the system. But we did manage to get in excess of 165% lambs through to weaning giving us plenty of rams and ewes to select from. As a consequence, the high number of multiples has seen our rams start from a lighter base weight but carcase scanning of our ram lambs produced some outstanding muscle to weight measurements. Also the decision to delay our lambing to June/July has resulted in higher conception rates and a more condensed lambing.
As with most of our clients, March saw an event that few would have witnessed before; half our annual rainfall in less than a week.
We suffered plenty of fence loss and water through hay sheds and silos but have managed to get things back to a workable state. Our rams also puddle around in water for a few days which caused a slight set back and a few problems. We hope all our ram clients have not been to adversely affected by this event. At least it has provided good subsoil moisture.
To cater for increased demand for rams, we increased our White Suffolk ewe numbers slightly this year and syndicate joined a small mob of ewes to one of our leading meat eating quality sires. We also decided to AI all our White Dorper composite ewes to our own sires as we could not source a suitable ram to use naturally. Consequently our Dorper Composite lambs are a later drop this year and will be available as ram lambs early in the New Year. There is still a group of late Spring drop composite rams available for immediate selection.
It is always great to catch up with clients during the year and hear of their successes with their lambs. The past 12 months has definitely been exciting, we are confident the developments over the past few years will ensure the future is just as exciting.
Murray & Di Long