Young mums make more lambs
20 July 2012
A research project in Victoria is helping shed light on the production challenges of successfully joining Merino ewe-lambs at just seven to nine months of age.
Over 18,000 ewe-lambs have been monitored to discover if there is a correlation between joining weights and condition scores with conception rates over the past three years.
This work is the backbone of an MLA producer demonstration site in collaboration with the Victorian Best Wool Best Lamb network.
The goal is to develop guidelines and a best practice manual for Merino breeders wanting to increase production of their breeding flocks or fast-track genetic improvement by joining ewe-lambs at an early age.
Although the focus of the project is on Merinos, crossbred ewe-lambs have been included.
Lyndon Kubeil, Making More From Sheep (MMFS) State Coordinator with Victoria Department of Primary Industries (DPI), said the research revealed it was possible to successfully join Merino ewe-lambs, but it had been a steep learning curve for the producers involved.
“The research is promising in that it shows it is certainly possible to achieve reasonable conception rates in Merino ewe-lambs,” Lyndon said.
“It hasn’t been all roses, however, and there have been some big variations in pregnancy rates of 4% to 70%.
“But nearly every flock in the PDS has achieved a big improvement in conception performance from year one to year three, and that has all been part of the learning of this project – finding out where we need to be in the management of ewe-lambs to get a successful joining result.”
All the ewe-lambs in the trial have been individually identified with electronic eartags, and weight and condition score data has been collected at joining.
The 15 flocks involved in the trial from across Victoria all join in the autumn for a spring lambing. The ewe-lambs are then pregnancy scanned at 80 days, with follow-up monitoring to assess the impact, if any, of early joining on future fertility and production.
“We have good data to show that, provided the management of the ewe-lambs is good and they receive adequate nutrition, there is no problem in getting the ewe-lambs back in lamb the second year,” Lyndon said. The next phase of the project will involve economic modelling and a cost benefit analysis.
“We should have some definitive answers and guidelines in the next 12-months to help producers decide if the joining of Merino ewe-lambs is a practical and viable option for their enterprise,” Lyndon said.
Download the Tip&tool: Joining ewe-lambs for more profit