PENDARRA POINT OF VIEW.

An interesting Past 12 months with lamb prices once again reaching the high levels seen several years ago but seemingly this time without the “ Shock-Horror ” reaction from processors and industry seemed to make very little of the effect that these prices could potentially have. My feeling is that given the position of the Australian sheep industry in regard to numbers and world demand for lamb, $6/Kg for lamb is a level that could be reached more often in coming years. It would seem that the national sheep flock has reached a level (72 million) where it is potentially will remain for the foreseeable future and is actually falling slightly at present. This is quite implausible given the lamb price, forward projections and seasonal conditions leading into winter but the cropping industry is apparently more resilient than most thought with the early break prompting many to get onto tractors early and put a few extra acres under cultivation. The benefits of those decisions are yet to be realised?

For the first time our export of lamb has exceeded domestic consumption with currently around 53% of lamb production exported and the demand from our 3 largest buyers, US, Middle East and China, extremely strong. This coupled with the fact that the last time we reached $6/Kg in 2010/11, we produced 17.5 million lambs, and this time we have produced 21.5 million lambs in the inclusive 12 month period and still managed to reach those high prices. This is a very strong signal and one that should provide a lot of confidence in the lamb industry. NZ is not going to be able to have any effect on global supply (we have just eclipsed NZ as the largest exporter of lamb) but is providing strong competition into the China market at the expense of their EU quota. Australia is the ‘go to' supplier for lamb and with demand growing, the only real issue for our future is our unpredictable climate. The reason for the slight drop in our sheep population us being attributed to the dry finish last year, the hot dry summer (normal) and the real issue of surface water reserves potentially running out unless good runoff is forthcoming before we get too far into summer.

So going forward; in the 6 months Jan-June 2014 we have increased export volume to all our export destinations except PNG with a lot of lambs being slaughtered during this period. This should potentially cause a shortfall of lamb numbers in the 2 nd half of the year but current indications are that this is not happening. You would think at some time in the next 6 months that there will be a relative shortage of lamb numbers which will have the usual effect on price. It would seem that those farmers who have made the decision to include a sheep enterprise in their operation are determined to have that balance and at present, those who don't see a sheep enterprise as an option are equally set in their decision, I suspect not much will change regardless of the attractiveness of lamb prices; the harvest this year may have little effect on that balance.

There is a lot going on behind the scenes within the sheep industry, the enthusiasm at Lambex in Adelaide a few months ago is testament to the feeling about its future.

   

 

THE X-FACTOR – GENETIC FAT

If there is one aspect of sheep breeding over the past 10-15 years that has been consistent, it has been the conscious aim to breed genetically leaner animals, largely in response to consumer health concerns. However in recent years, the price some have paid for perhaps going too far in this direction is becoming clear as they discover more about the positive correlations that genetic fat has on many areas of sheep performance. We are not referring simply to fat laid down due to additional feeding; genetic fat or “bred on” fat relates to the differences in genetic capacity of an individual to lay down higher levels of fat compared to another animal. While extreme levels of fat have a negative impact on carcase value in relation lower Lean Meat Yield (LMY), the value of higher levels of genetic fat in breeding programs is being realised. The value of higher condition scores in relation to both conception rates and lamb survival is well known but requires feeding to control condition scores and not all animals respond equally. The value of higher genetic fat levels, especially in the Merino ewe could result in significant savings in feed costs and management.

So what are the benefits of higher genetic fat?

Positive section for fat is like getting a genetic insurance policy resulting in more robust ewes thatare able to better handle limited feed conditions with reduced weight loss. Ewes with higher levels of genetic fat produced lambs with higher levels of survivability with more lambs to weaning. Simply using sires that are genetically fatter increased lamb survival by around 5%.

Research has shown that the effect of additional genetic fat produced an additional 14% and 24.5% of lambs per mm of YFat over 2 years of the study. This translated to a 2% increase in profitability for a wool enterprise per mm YFat and up to a 25% increase in profit for a prime lamb enterprise.

Findings reported by SRS Media found a 20% increase in lamb mortality when using sires with low levels of Fat and Muscle. The finding also found lamb birth weights were less affected in the ewes with higher levels of genetic fat when feed become limiting.

The new area where genetic fat is found to have advantages is in relation to Meat eating Quality (MEQ). Butchers have always told us that fat is essential for succulent, great tasting meat but the industry decided to breed against it in response to growing consumer demand for leaner meat that was assumed to be healthier. What we have seen subsequently is the breeding toward lower MEQ to the point where we have some sires in the industry with unacceptable MEQ. While muscling plays a role in this trend, genetically fatter sheep generally have higher MEQ characteristics, especially Intra Muscular Fat levels which is the main driver of MEQ.

There is no doubt given the new understanding of the role genetic fat plays in management of sheep and profitability that it could be the X Factor that explains many secrets as to why some sheep perform better under limiting conditions than others

  PROTEIN, PREGNANCY AND PROGESTERONE ....& FEED INTAKE?

One common thought in relation to conception is the effect of high levels of protein post joining and the negative effect this has on embryo survival. It has been well documented in many research programs that diets excessive in protein increase plasma urea nitrogen (PUN) concentrations in the blood which in turn have a toxic effect on both the oocyte and embryo leading to lower levels of fertility and conception. High protein intake is also linked to unfavorable changes in the uterus environment and decreased progesterone secretion, both of which have a negative impact on conception. However there is a level of contradiction within trials ranging from little effect to a massive reduction in conception.

 

Where high protein diets that were associated with a negative energy balance and heat stress the conception rates were even lower, whereas when protein and energy were more in balance the effect was not as dramatic or not significant

Research conducted compared the rates of conception across a range of feed intake levels with interesting results. Ewes fed twice their maintenance ration of energy during early pregnancy had a significant reduction in conception rates; 48% compared to ewes fed their maintenance ration with a conception rate of 68%. Ewes fed only half the maintenance energy requirement had no reduction in conception. If the ewes receiving the higher maintenance ration were administered progesterone during the first weeks post joining, their conception rates increased to 76%, indicating that the higher feed intake or twice the maintenance ration was having a significant effect on progesterone levels causing embryo death.

Blood tests indicated that the most sensitive period for the embryo was 11-12 days after mating. So is it the level of protein that creates a problem with conception or is it the level of energy intake? Research would indicate both.

 

There is little doubt that high protein diets create an unfavorable environment for the new embryo and indeed the unfertilised egg. We also know that diets containing high levels of energy (twice the maintenance level) will result in lower levels of Progesterone resulting in embryo loss. If we assume that the good managers of sheep enterprises may over compensate feed intake to allow for lower protein levels, this could explain some of the variability we see with conception. Putting ewes on the best feed after joining may be the problem and it seems that day 11-12 after joining is the crucial time. If Progesterone levels are low at this time the chances of embryo survival is significantly decreased.

 

Just another variable to high conception rates.

 

BE AWARE OF ANIMAL WELFARE

It seemingly started with the debate over mulesing and has been fuelled more recently by the isolated instances regarding issues within the live sheep trade. Animal welfare is something every sheep producer needs to be aware of and it will become an increasing consideration across the industry. Recent decisions by Coles to ensure all their home brand eggs are from non-caged birds and branding their pork products as sow stall free is in response to an increasingly awareness and sensitivity of consumer sentiment on the issue of animal welfare. Although the issue is often clouded by confusion between organic labelling and what actually constitutes free range or high levels of wellbeing, there is recent increasing concerns over animal welfare in regard to the production of all animal food products.

 

It would be easy to simply disregard this increasing consumer concern as the manipulation by groups of radicle activists beating up falsehoods, but there are some serious discussions being conducted across all livestock industries and authorities to address the issue of Animal welfare. The perception of the Australian lamb industry has long been one of “Clean and Green” and this image has served our export credentials well and allowed us to operate in markets without the perception of crowded feedlots and unhealthy livestock. Even within our domestic markets, consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the conditions and welfare considerations under which their food is produced.

So what does the issue of animal welfare consider? Animal Health Australia list 5 freedoms relating to animal welfare;

1.   Freedom from Hunger and Thirst

2.   Freedom from Discomfort

3.   Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease

4.   Freedom to express normal behaviours

5.   Freedom from Fear and Distress

 

There is the assumption that if an animal is growing well and at the peak of production potential, then all is well with welfare; not always the case! Animal welfare is “how an animal is coping with the condition in which it lives… it is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behaviour, and it is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management, nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter. Animal welfare refers to the state of the animal; the treatment that an animal receives is covered by other terms such as animal care, animal husbandry, and humane treatment. Protecting an animal's welfare means providing for its physical and mental needs”

 

A recent review of animal welfare standards and guidelines within the Australia sheep industry has been conducted and was open for public comment. There is some ambiguity between the legal implications of Standards compared to Guidelines but will inevitably involve a tightening of standards across the industry. To view the document visit; www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au

 

The main focus to date within the sheep industry apart from the mulesing debate has been in relation to transport and slaughter standards but with increasing consumer awareness, what is visible “from the road” could potentially be a concern for all sheep producers. Visual images relating to mulesing, tail docking and earmarking will build awareness of the practices within the sheep industry and ultimately could impact the image our industry currently portrays. Issues such as lamb and sheep mortality will become important issues for sheep producers and as we push for higher fertility, we need to be aware of the effect it has on mortality and adjust management practices.

 

Ignorance of what is required will be no defence against bad animal welfare practice. Common sense indicates good animal welfare practice leads to higher production.

 

WHAT'S HAPPENING AT PENDARRA

   

Plenty happening here and having just shorn the rams, they are benefiting from the good early start to the season and have been on crop for some time now.

The last 12 months has been extremely busy across many fronts, both on farm and off farm.

The 2013 drop of lambs are definitely the best we have produced to date and the Lambplan analysis of our sheep supports that with the biggest genetic gain we have made for many years. The use of some very good industry sires through the AI program and some of our Pendarra sires has delivered an outstanding selection in what turned out to be a difficult Spring and Summer last year.

Our involvement in the Sheep CRC program continues and we have DNA tested around 35 sires from the 2013 drop and will do the same from the current drop of rams. I was honored to be invited to represent the sheep industry in Canberra to present the case for an extension of the Sheep CRC program which we were successful in attaining. I was also invited to deliver a presentation at Adelaide for the Sheep CRC, just prior to Lambex.

The findings from the CRC may not have any immediate or direct benefits to lamb producers in regard to MEQ, but there is plenty of discussion and activity within the industry on this issue. Keep an eye on what is happening in this area as opportunities may soon develop which will make use of the DNA results we are collating on our genetic base.

We look forward to catching up with all our clients soon. There are also a few older stud rams available at flock 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.

We are trying build a data base of email addresses to allow fast contact with our clients and there is also the opportunity for commercial lamb producers to become commercial members of the White Suffolk Assoc. at no charge. Just go to the AWSA website;

http://www.whitesuffolk.org.au/

and register as a commercial member to receive the latest info from the White Suffolk breed and the industry.

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 at times, we are confident the decisions we have made over the past few years will ensure the future is exciting and will benefit everyone.

Catch up soon;

Murray & Di Long