Every time I get my ewes into the yards, I look at them quite intently and it both intrigues me and bothers me that I cannot tell which ones are making me money and which ones are costing me. I look at a big 75kg animal in CS3 (condition score 3) and standing right next door is a 60kg animal also in CS3. I start to ask myself – how much lamb did you raise last year? Were you a twin or a single bearer and if you were a twin, did you raise both of them? Did you maintain CS throughout lactation or did you drop CS? And what are your genetics?
I think to myself, if I want to improve the genetics of these animals, I need to know what I am starting with. The other thing I must have to enable me to take my flock forward is selection pressure. For this to happen, I need to make sure I have a sufficient number of replacements coming into the system so I am not forced to keep unproductive stock for the sake of maintaining stocking rate. If we are forced to do this, the result could be insufficient rate of gain to counteract natural inflation increases in costs.
Running a prime lamb enterprise, the key profit driver for me is kg’s of lamb produced per DSE (dry sheep equivalent). This will take into account the weight of the ewe in CS3, NLW (Number Lambs Weaned) and at a certain stocking rate, I can work out kg produced per Ha (Hectare).
I think it is important I also look at the change in CS of the ewe as this will tell me a bit more about her efficiency. If she looses weight over the 100 day lactation, should this also be taken into account?? If the ewe is milking off her back for the lambs benefit, would it be logical to take this into consideration when working out total kgs produced? Putting that weight back on her costs money, particularly if the season cuts out and we need to supplement her.
So then I thought to myself, what do we need to measure to ensure the ewe gets more efficient at converting grass to milk while maintaining body weight? My current thoughts are around measuring CS before and after lambing. This should tell me part of the story. Not knowing how much lamb she has produced is very limiting though. I can’t get stuck in the trap though. Selecting on CS alone does not distinguish between those that simply eat more! That’s where genetics comes in, particularly around the carcase traits such as genetic fat and muscle. To my knowledge, selecting for genetic fat has a direct benefit on feed efficiency of the ewe, which in turn has a positive effect on both lamb growth rate and fertility.
Apart from scanning data, and assuming all dries are identified at lamb marking, is there much else we can select a prime lamb mother on if we can’t select on kg produced per DSE? I personally think we really need to be able to link ewe and lamb/s to have any real selection pressure and efficiency gains through individual animal management.
To my knowledge, in a merino operation, kg of lamb produced as well as NLW is also a very important profit driver which would also require mothering up to gain maximum benefit. Selecting high genetic fat here can also play a key role in ewe efficiency and therefore profit. High genetic fat will positively influence fertility, feed efficiency, lamb survival and lamb growth. The added bonus in a merino system is the value of the wool. Under an individual animal management system, without the luxury of having ewe and lamb linkages, a ewe can at least be selected or culled based on wool production alone.
So I am still asking myself (and I hope you are too) – can individual animal management give me a better return on investment through higher rates of gain than a mob based management system? As well as be complimented by simplicity and practicality at the same time?
In a few weeks time I am making a trip through NSW and into QLD to talk to some of the great minds about this very thing. This will be followed by two weeks in New Zealand. I’ll probably be talking mostly about my Nuffield topic and please remember they are only my ‘views’ so welcome any feedback, comments and conversation around how we can collectively improve the Australian sheep industry.