Put yourself in the drivers' seat

09 September 2016

Ewe management  to maximise survival and profitability are underpinned by four key profit drivers, according to livestock consultant San Jolly of Productive Nutrition.

San recently shared those profit drivers with producers at a series of Pastoral Profit workshops, a joint initiative of MLA and Australian Wool Innovation,  at Walgett and Moree, NSW, and Dirranbandi, Queensland. They followed similar workshops at Walgett, Dubbo and Cobar in April.

Producers were reminded of the role of measuring and monitoring to guide management and the importance of ensuring any productivity improvements are profitable by reassessing cost of production annually and running gross margin budgets on feeding strategies.

The four profit drivers

1: Dry matter production

“The first step to assessing the nutritional requirements of ewes is to weigh them,” San said.

“This provides a baseline to monitor weight gain/loss for early intervention and management.”

Based on ewe weights and fertility (measured by pregnancy scanning), producers can determine their DSE (dry sheep equivalent)  and estimate feed demand, using tools such as the Victorian Department of Primary Industries' guide to Capacity Monitoring and MLA’s Feed Demand Calculator.

Tip: Invest in efficient livestock equipment such as scales to monitor weight gain or loss for targeted management, assess readiness for joining, and to ensure the dosage of drenches is correct for the weight of the sheep.

2: Feed quality

“The best times to test feed quality is before you really need it, so before lambing and again before weaning,” San said.

Feed test results can guide decisions such as the cost-effectiveness of supplementary feeding if pasture protein levels are low, as well as providing information about whether pasture condition or other factors (such as genetics) are influencing weight gains.

Tip: Feed quality cannot be accurately assessed visually – consultants can provide advice on how to take accurate samples and where to send them for laboratory testing.

3: Stocking rates

There are several times of year and methods to assess stocking rates (based on kilograms of dry matter/ha) including when there is a feed wedge before sheep go into a paddock, or during winter when pasture is growing.

Tip: MLA runs pasture courses, check the event calendar here.

4: Genetic potential

Genetics underpin the potential for fleece weight, fertility, growth rate and lamb survival.

Each enterprise will have different priorities so it is valuable to have formal breeding objectives to focus ram selection and culling decisions. However, some broad rules of thumb for optimising genetic profit drivers include:

  • Identify the constraints to your production system (such as environment or predation) and focus on the areas that are within in your control.
  • Weigh lambs at weaning to see if genetics are translating to enhanced growth rates.
  • Match rams to your target market – for example, if producing store lambs then prioritise ASBVs for high weaning weights.

Joining presents another opportunity for producers to increase ewe productivity. With many pastoral producers preparing to wean at the moment, San said good pre-joining activities include:

  • Draft ewes into light/heavy or fat/thin mobs using the most efficient and appropriate method for your business (eID/auto drafting based on weight or condition scoring).
  • Start managing the light/thin ewes with preferential allocation of feed to bring them up to the target joining weight
  • Draft out dry ewes so they do not re-enter the breeding program.

Tip: Now is the time to start planning for weaner nutrition by taking feed quality tests and mineral deficiency tests to guide supplementation decisions.

Keep an eye out for San’s tips and tactics for weaner management in next week’s Friday Feedback.

Information:

San Jolly E: san@productivenutrition.com.au

Resources:

More Lambs More Often: Lamb survival strategies
Making More From Sheep: Tips and tactics to wean more lambs
Making More From Sheep: Efficient pastoral production
Pastoral Profit: A joint initiative of MLA and AWI

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