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Small changes deliver big pay-off

05 November 2018

Feeding the right animal the right nutrition at the right time is Victorian sheep producer Will Hanson’s formula to turning off top quality MSA produce.

The second generation sheep producer and his wife Kate run a self-replacing composite flock of about 3,500 ewes at their 1,011ha property ‘Narcombie’ on the outskirts of Colac in Victoria.

The family-run operation became MSA-registered five years ago, enabling them to market direct to local processors, Australian Lamb Company, where they sell about 2,000 head/year.

“There’s a lot of variation in the lamb industry, but if more producers followed MSA pathways and recommendations, that would tighten things right up. A little bit of extra effort on-farm makes a big difference to end product,” Will said.

“Eating quality is important for the lamb industry to maintain and even grow its market share, because the product has to eat well. We can’t sell rubbish or the consumers won’t come back.”

Changing tack

Lambs are grown out to about 45kg live weight and ewes are retained for breeding, with a focus on producing a fertile, efficient, moderate-sized ewe producing two lambs.

To optimise eating quality, the MSA program requires lambs to reach a minimum of 18kg carcases with a fat score of two.

“For the past 10 years we’ve been breeding our own replacements and buying in maternal composite rams, and in the past five years we’ve been selling less lambs overall to build our flock numbers,” Will said.

By increasing scanning rates by 30%, lamb survival has improved from 79% to 82% over the past five years.

“With higher lamb survival rates, and more moderate-sized ewes, we’re able to run more stock per hectare.”

By developing pastures and switching from set stocking to rotational grazing, the Hansons have avoided having to increase property size to handle increased flock numbers.

Undeveloped rocky country was cleared with excavators, drained and sewn in with crops for several years before being subdivided.

“We’ve cut down our mobs of ewes carrying twins to about 50 head and we’ve reduced paddock sizes from about 40ha down to 10ha,” Will said.

“By scanning for multiple and single pregnancies, we’re able to allocate feed resources accordingly.

“Before lamb marking we’ll combine four mobs into one and rotate between four paddocks, before we divide them up again towards weaning.

Once lambs are weaned the ewes will go out onto clover and lucerne crops as one big mob.

Finding the right feed mix

Good nutrition and finishing are critical for producing lambs with superior eating quality.

For best results, MSA recommends that in the two weeks leading up to slaughter lambs be placed on a rising plant of nutrition resulting in gains of at least 100–150g/day.

To ensure adequate nutrition, the flock is predominantly grassfed, but are supplemented at certain times of the year to maintain growth rates.

“What we feed depends on the time of year and type of sheep,” Will said.

“At joining time we feed lupins and a cereal mix, and we yard wean our lambs at between 12 and 14 weeks, and feed them oats and vetch hay.”

Faba beans are a new addition to the Hansons’ crop rotation, which they introduced to help maintain the growth rates of lambs straight after weaning.

“The beans are a new addition to boost the energy in their diet. We mix about 20% beans in with oats and we’ve noticed they are keeping their condition much better, on the mix of high protein beans and hay for roughage.”

More information:

Will Hanson