Measuring key profit drivers – Initial thoughts.

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.

I hope you enjoy the next chapter!


6 thoughts on “Measuring key profit drivers – Initial thoughts.

  1. That’s one of those massive, massive questions I think the fat lamb industry has been skirting (sheep pun not intended) around for a while.
    Its something we look at very closely in dairy. I’m at a loss how you would do it in sheep without raising the cost of production above return though!
    I cant wait to see what you come up with!

  2. a fellow down here in Esperance did a trial on NLIS for sheep which would make individual animal id work much better for you. He may also have done some breakdown of costs/growth etc at the time. PM me for details if you like. Mind you it sounds like an awful lot of work and might be valid to be done with a small experimental group rather than a whole mob

  3. When those who produce the technology to link the Dam with the progeny at a commercially affordable price, it will all start to happen. Hopefully sooner than later!
    I don’t think you can judge a female on CS at lamb marking/calf marking time as quite often they raise the best progeny as they are the good milkers. If they are treated the same as the rest of the mob and not given preferential treatment the rams will do the culling as they will not cycle.
    If however they are drafted and given “special treatment”, there is then a cost.
    The cost however is minimal, as unfortunately many producers are not stocked to the optimum and therefore do not utilise DM, especially in the spring months. So they will get back in lamb.
    I agree with you that positive fat is important in selection for Doing ability / fertility. I do recall reading an article discussing trials that indicated that positive fat selection had a negative effect on wool cut.
    Good points raised Hannah. Technology combined with improvements in management will see the sheep industry go ahead in leaps and bounds.

    • Thanks for your comments Stuart, I agree judging on condition score alone could be a step in the opposite direction – without a link to the lamb and lamb weights, it would be near impossible to make an informed selection decision. Could CS at weaning and then again pre joining could give us some idea of her ability to respond/do better (ie eat less for the same gain)?? I’m pretty sure you are right with high genetic fat reducing wool cut, but there are animals that can be selected for fat and high wool cut and these are the animals that I would replicate! I guess I was also wondering, if the % income from wool is decreasing, Would surplus stock income out weight the slower wool weight gains? I agree, management ultimately will tie it all together and needs to be maximised to maximise any of it. Interesting times ahead in sheep!!

      • Interesting conversation Hannah, enjoying the line of thought.

        To me, the concept of running a genetically “efficient” animal is fundamental to a livestock system. With genetic efficiency in place (fat & muscle) the production traits (fleece weight & growth) can then be driven to optimise profitability. By loading up the animal with heaps of wool & a big frame, we are setting it up to fail when under pressure from lambing, worms or poor nutrition. Lambing rates of under 100% in Merino’s is a good example of the sort of inefficiency we have come to accept.

        Your comments on fat make sense. There is a 4% correlation between positive fat & reduced fleece weight, which isn’t much, but as you pointed out, there is a still a large selection of merinos that combine positive fat with positive fleece weight & they are the sorts of animals that can maintain good fleece weights and also wean an extra 8% of lambs per mm of fat.

        The other point is that if more commercial producers put enough pressure on their ram source to collect ASBV’s for traits like fat, muscle, early growth, worm resistance etc there would be more animals identified that had the positive combination of fat & fleece weight, or a different combination of traits more suited to an individuals production needs.

        I was just speaking with a contact in New Zealand who has plans to co-ordinate the collection of DNA samples to not only measure all of the known carcass traits but also the paternal & maternal pedigree! And it is to be done across 250,000 lambs!! Your 2 week trip through NZ should be very interesting.

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