The past 12 months has seen the sheep industry return to some reality with a period of lower prices causing many to have a rethink about increasing sheep numbers further. The first 3 months of 2013 saw record kill numbers of sheep, up to 3 times the previous highs, consistently being recorded which has caused a reduction in the national sheep population back to the levels recorded at the end of the drought. The big factor in this was the prolonged period of dry weather following the big drenching we received last March. The influence of the problems associated with the live sheep trade meant that the market became flooded resulting in prices at levels not seen for many years.
The flood of lamb into the market in the last quarter of 2012 resulted in a drop in prices which had many producers rethinking budget forecasts based on the extremely high prices of a few years ago. There is no doubt that the prices above $6/Kg did damage to both our domestic and export trade and while it is great to receive those prices, it is not sustainable over a prolonged period and the lamb industry is better off with prices where all areas of the industry can compete. The increased supply coupled with the high $A resulted in lower prices for lamb and coupled with record volumes of lamb exported, the price had to drop. We have had a situation over recent times where high prices for lamb have been coupled with a high $A (above parity) and this situation is not sustainable for all in the industry to remain competitive.
Lamb exports for 2012-13 saw over 200,500 tonne of lamb exported, the largest volume ever recorded for a fiscal year, up 15% on last year's record and 24% higher than the 5 year average (MLA, Feedback August 2013). With just over half our production of lamb exported, this translates to an increased consumption of lamb domestically. While the high prices have seen some effect on consumer choice, lamb still remains a safer choiceof meat protein for many consumers. Around 72% of all lamb is sold through retail outlets with Coles and Woolworths accounting for about 60% of sales. The price war between these two outlets has had some impact on the continued sales of lamb and while their ongoing price wars are seen by many as detrimental, perhaps there is some benefit provided the cost of production is not the starting point of pricing.
So where to for the next 12 months? The season is looking promising, lamb and sheep prices are heading in the right direction and with a projected shortfall of lambs as a result of both reduced breeding stock, less favorable conception rates and the huge lamb sales last year, the price of lamb should hold up in the short term. It is difficult to see the record production levels of recent years being maintained, let alone bettered so the demand/ supply equation should ensure some price stability. The season should, at this stage, provide some favorable returns for cropping enterprises which could influence the decision making of mixed enterprises in regard to the numbers of livestock they retain but there has to be a sustainable mix that provides security over many years, not just based on “one off” occurrences.
GRASS SEEDS – THE TIME IS APPROACHING
With good consistent rainfall over the past few months and pasture growth beginning to take off due to the warmer weather, the perpetual problem of grass seeds will soon be upon us. Grass seeds can have an impact across all areas of production, even to the point of causing a price collapse in the lamb market. Several years ago when Victorian lamb producers feared the impact of some unseasonal hot weather would cause haying off of grass seed species, the lamb market was flooded and subsequently prices dropped sharply across the board. But the implications to management go way beyond any price considerations to the market as a whole.
Grass seed contamination has impacts across the areas of loss of production, animal welfare issues and direct financial losses. Years of consistent drought has seen an increase in the concentration of Barley grass, and while this is not the only culprit in the grass seed war, it is one that has benefits early in the growing season as it provides a good source of early feed. Other species of concern are Brome Grass, Spear grass and Silver grass, all which can cause issues if not controlled.
Lamb producers need to first be aware of potential problem paddocks and prepare low risk paddocks ahead of time either through spray topping or grazing strategies to ensure that there are at least a few weed free options for lambs over the danger period. Grass seed infestation is only of concern for a few months but it requires a year round program to control. Once a carcass becomes contaminated with seed, there is no way of removing it and research has shown that as few as 25 grass seeds can reduce live weight gain by as much as 50%.The risk of some diseases are also increased with grass seed contamination.
Much work is being conducted across the industry on this problem but there are a few strategies that can be used to minimize the impact of infestation.
Grazing management which avoids areas of grass seed infestation
Spraying or slashing to reduce seed production for subsequent years
Stock management such as lambing time and shearing time to avoid peak periods of risk
Altering targeted markets to not be part of the potential flood of lambs at peak grass seed season.
Unfortunately once a lamb carcase has been contaminated, there is no way of removing it and subsequently many processors are finding non vendor presented stock as a big problem as finishers purchasing store lambs have limited avenues for determining lambs that may have been previously infested with grass seeds. All this contamination costs the industry significant losses and who ultimately pays for that loss…the lamb producer.
Keep grass seeds out of your lambs.
CARCASE TRAITS NOT AFFECTED BY MODERATE WORM BURDEN AT HIGH GROWTH RATES
(Information from paper presented at Animal Production Science Conference July 2012 by G Refshauge, ,Cowra DPI.
Work partially funded by Sheep CRC
This data was collected over 2 years comparing liveweight, pre slaughter growth rate and carcase characteristics of lambs with moderate levels of worm burden. The lambs were bred as part of the INF across 8 sites with progeny evaluated for a range of meat production and consumer relevant traits. It was thought that increasing WEC pre slaughter would be associated with increased muscle pH, decreased carcase fat and colour characteristics based on limited previous research.
The lambs from the INF included a range of Merino wether, maternal sire first cross wethers, mixed sex terminal sire first cross and second cross lambs and were evaluated across 2 years;2010/2011. Liveweights were recorded 1 month prior to and within 7 days of slaughter and pre slaughter growth rates calculated. All lambs were individually faecal sampled within 7 days of slaughter. Worm egg counts ranged from 40-2600 epg for Strongyle spp, 0-320 for Nematodirus spp . Larval cultures indicated this burden to be predominately Trichostrongylus spp. Growth rate of lambs
pre slaughter across both years was 196 ± 8 g/day. After slaughter, measurements on loin pH, eye muscle dimensions and fat depth were conducted and subsequent measurements on fresh meat and chilled (5days) colour carried out.
Lambs that were heavier pre slaughter had higher WEC levels with no significant relationship between WEC and weight 7 days pre slaughter or growth rate. Carcase pH was not significantly affected by WEC nor was fat depth or eye muscle depth after correction for weight.
This research showed that lambs achieving good mean growth rates to slaughter exhibited no variation of growth rate across the range of WEC observed but they do not imply that the growth rates would have been the same at lower levels of WEC.
Other trial work on Dorper lambs has reported similar levels of worm burden causing no significant relationship between WEC and eye muscle depth but did show a reduction in body condition score. This study also showed heavier lambs to have higher WEC than lighter lambs at the same age.
Despite WECS ( strongyl spp .) ranging from very low to very high, no effects were observed on other carcase traits. After allowing for variation in hot carcase weight, fresh colour and eye muscle width increased as WECS increased. This implies that the level of burden was insufficient to adversely affect meat quality characteristics above the benefits for carcase traits achieved by attaining higher growth rates and heavier carcase weights
LUCERNE AND CONCEPTION – HELP OR HINDER?
The recent good seasons has seen Lucerne stands rejuvenated and once again supplying unequalled quality feed during the summer months. It has also raised the question of what effect grazing Lucerne during joining has on conception rates with some very low conception rates being reported in recent seasons when ewes were joined on predominant Lucerne pasture. Higher protein levels present in Lucerne seems to interfere with the embryo implant process in the uterus. The fertility problems caused by many species of clover containing oestrogen-mimicking compounds are well known however in Lucerne, concentrations of phyto-oestrogens are affected by environment and the presence of stress and disease resulting in plenty of contradictory information that continually confuses producers.
Lucerne produces coumestrol, a phyto-oestrogenic compound that is known to influence the number of multiple ovulations in sheep and other ruminant species. The highest concentration of this compound is found in Lucerne at the budding stage when environment and nutrition can have significant effects on the growth of the plant. Other stress factors such as pest and disease are also shown to increase coumestrol production in Lucerne, with the plant containing minimal coumestrol unless affected by foliar disease, aphids or fungal pathogens . The ability of Lucerne to resist these outside stresses is affected by humidity, age of the stand, nutrition and temperature and consequently all these can have an effect on the levels of coumestrol in the Lucerne plant.
That is where the agreement stops in relation to the effect of Lucerne on fertility. It is possible however that low concentrations of coumestrol in sheep grazing on lucerne have deleterious effects without any visible clinical signs. Pelleted Lucerne or Lucerne hay can have increased concentrations of coumestrol present.
One extreme finding indicated almost half of the ewes fed a Lucerne based diet showed anatomical changes within the reproductive tract that were permanent if exposure to coumestrol was prolonged. Research conducted in NZ found a negative linear relationship between coumestrol content of pelleted lucene and the number of ewes with multiple ovulations; feeding a Lucerne pellet diet just 7 days prior to ovulation reduced multiple ovulations markedly from an average 40.8% to just 4.1% when ewes were fed a diet containing 100ppm of coumestrol. Removing the feed subsequently showed no lasting effects. There is evidence that high levels of coumestrol actually affect the incidence of oestrus, therefore halting it altogether.
These findings tend to confuse producers who use short term ‘flushing' on Lucerne prior to joining to increase ovulation rates. However Lucerne carrying a fungal infection or under stress from pathogens would contain some levels of coumestrol and would therefore fail achieve the same flushing effect as a fresh healthy stand; the fact that normal oestrus potential returns the following cycle after the cause is removed, would tend to indicate that flushing ewes on Lucerne containing coumestrol would still achieve some of the benefit of increasing ovulation rates but how much potential is lost? In a trial where ewes were joined on Lucerne, despite this increase in ovulation rate there were no differences in lambing performance with higher levels of embryonic loss and barren ewes in the ewes flushed and joined on Lucerne. Lesson here is flush and then remove from Lucerne during joining. A further study showed more evidence indicating a significant degree of embryonic loss when ewes that were scanned as carrying twins were left on Lucerne pasture, with 55% of the ewes losing one of the twins they were carrying.
So how do you ensure reproduction is not affected by levels of coumestrol in Lucerne stands? The easy answer is keeping them off Lucerne during joining., The jury will continue to be out on this one but it does seem from the literature that it is not the Lucerne itself that is the problem but the health status of the Lucerne stand in relation to disease, growth stage, fungal and insect attack and nutrition that causes the Lucerne to generate the problem
WHAT'S HAPPENING AT PENDARRA
First an apology for the later production of this newsletter
There has been plenty happening here and not all related to the farm. For most of 2013 Di has been battling some puzzling health issues and this has taken priority over everything else. Thankfully medical specialists recently managed to solve most of the problems and she has recovered. Consequently all aspects of the farm are currently playing catch-up and the turnaround in the season is a welcome change and has helped what otherwise could have been difficult.
The disaster that was the heavy rain in March 2012 which flooded 75% of our property had a big effect on, not only fences, but the nutritive value of our pasture and crops. We finally repaired all fences but a record number of frosts over Winter and no spring rain took its toll on pasture and consequently our livestock. We only managed 280mm of rain in the following 14months after March 2012 and I am sure most would agree it was a tough period. But we are battling on and still here.
Our involvement in all areas relating to innovation and performance recording has continued or perhaps even increased. There has been a lot of trials across all states involving meat eating quality (MEQ) and many our sires have been heavily used in these trials as a benchmark for MEQ.
Performance testing using Lambplan has shown that the 2012 drop of lambs were exceptional and provided us with some significant genetic gains in the area of higher fat levels and lower birth weights, all resulting in easier management of lambs. We have DNA tested a large number of these lambs for not only MEQ but verification of the gains we are making with growth and carcase traits and the results show that the gains are even higher than we are measuring based on DNA analysis. We have relied heavily on DNA testing this year as our policy to run our young rams as commercially as possible meant they struggled during the spring through to a very hot summer.
We will make a decision soon to reduce stud ewe numbers so we can concentrate on some specific areas relating to fertility and MEQ. It is not envisaged that this will have an effect on ram numbers available for selection but it will provide some very high performance sires to select from as we place even more emphasis on traits that will result in higher suitability to market specifications and commercial management.
We look forward to catching up with all our clients soon. There are a few older rams available at significantly reduced prices and I would suggest that if you do not require rams until early 2014, that you ring and book requirements and you can select them later in the year or just prior to when your need them.
RAMS ARE CHEAPER THIS YEAR
something that doesn't happen very often.
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 challenging, we are confident the developments we are planning over the past few years will ensure the future is just as exciting.
Murray & Di Long