Make your weaners winners

16 September 2016

With many southern sheep producers coming into spring with plenty of feed after a wet winter, livestock consultant San Jolly said it was a good time to take stock of weaner management with three important activities to optimise growth rates and profitability.

San shared these tips with pastoral sheep producers at a recent series of Pastoral Profit workshops (a joint initiative of MLA and Australian Wool Innovation) in western NSW and south-west Queensland.

 San's three key factors for successful weaner management are:

1. Measure performance

“Weigh lambs at weaning to assess their current economic value as well as to establish their growth rates from birth to weaning. Recording weaning weight also establishes a benchmark for genetic gain and nutritional management.” San said.

She said measuring for management was not a once-off.

“Monitor growth rates regularly after weaning to allow early intervention if lambs are not meeting growth targets," she said.

Changing management in the short-term (or introducing different genetics for longer-term impact) may be necessary to maximise marketing opportunities.

2.  Health and welfare

Faecal egg counts are integral to strategic flock husbandry – conduct them before mustering stock in for weaning so you can prepare for drenching if worm control is required. It’s a timely reminder that health problems are often increased in good seasons.

The Making More From Sheep program has tools for managing worms and drench resistance – view Module 11: Healthy and contented sheep.

3.  Nutrition

Management of lambs after weaning will depend on the feed options available and the target market. If not weaning onto high quality pasture, weigh up the economics of alternative strategies including:

  • supplementary feeding in the paddock
  • finishing lambs in an on-farm feedlot
  • selling lambs as stores
  • finishing on grazing crops.

Tip:Although many producers are coming out of winter with a good body of feed, it is important to avoid grazing paddocks down before the summer break. Retain ground cover so summer-active pastures can recover following rain.

Managing weaners for profit

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach for managing lambs after weaning, as the economics of each strategy depends on the individual production system and variables such as sheep breed, feed availability and quality, the season, the market, the impact of kangaroos on pastures and predation,” San said.

“For example, producers who are assessing the comparative economics of grazing or harvesting crops will need to consider factors such as growth targets for weaners and the yield potential and market outlook of that crop in that year.”

Given the current high value of feeder lambs, the outlook for feedlotting in the absence of forward contracts appears very high risk. Use a tool such as the feedlot calculator to see if the numbers stack up.

If supplementing weaners, ensure lambs have had two vaccinations for pulpy kidney at marking and no more than six weeks after marking, to reduce mortalities.

San said the best approach, regardless of enterprise, was to develop a management plan based on the cost of production prior to weaning.

“Understanding how much it costs to get a lamb to weaning will provide a baseline for what price you need to receive for that lamb, to return a profit,” San said.

“This will guide decision making around what to do at weaning.”

Tip: A useful strategy for selling lambs can be to monitor AuctionsPlus, to track demand for lambs of a similar category and estimate value if you plan on selling weaners as stores.


San Jolly


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