View from my verandah: Matthew Ipsen

11 September 2015

Sheep breeder Matthew Ipsen hates losing a fight, particularly the one between life and death. So much so, Matthew, who is also a pregnancy scanning technician, set himself a goal of lifting his flock weaning rate by 30%. He studied ways to improve lamb survival with a Nuffield Scholarship as the road to help him get there.

What was happening in your enterprise, and with your clients, that drove you to explore this issue?

I was frustrated by the numbers of lambs that don’t survive, particularly in the first three days, even when producers are applying industry best practices. Clients would ask me why they weren’t getting the weaning percentages they might expect. Also, I just hate losing animals. It’s not solely a production-driven issue; it’s an animal welfare issue as well.

What did you learn?

I travelled to Scotland, France, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay and New Zealand and from all the researchers, consultants and farmers I spoke to, nutrition has the biggest impact on survival. I came away with the knowledge that:

  • Spending on nutrition is the best return on investment you can make in terms of improving lamb survival.
  • We need to use more mixed pasture species to provide the necessary protein and energy levels to sustain healthy pregnancies.
  • Keeping ewe body weights up and maintaining nutrition and body condition score are just as important in trimester one as trimester three, in terms of setting up the placenta and their hormone balances.
  • It's important to separate ewes carrying twins and triplets and be aware they may not be able to eat enough pasture, for example ryegrass and clover, to meet their energy requirements.

What seasonal issues are you currently facing on your own farm and how have you applied what you have learnt?

We’re at Maryborough in central Victoria and it’s tough here at the moment. We’ve been short of feed and water since December. I’ve aimed to keep the ewes in body condition score 3.5 all the way through – we’re in our fourth week of lambing now.

I fed 300g of barley per head, per day and 2kg of oaten hay. I lost a couple of pregnant ewes because I didn’t have enough calcium in the ration but I addressed that immediately with a trace element supplement and didn’t lose any more. In late July I increased the ration to 400g of barley and in the last two weeks, I gave them access to feeders and fed them ad lib.

I wasn’t able to separate off the twins/triplets because I didn’t have enough paddocks with water so the generous feed ration was a gamble, a middle road between the needs of singles and multiples. So far, I haven’t had any dystocia issues so it seems to have paid off.

What tools or resources do you use to improve lamb survival?

I recommend the Lifetime Ewe course and MLA’s Bred Well Fed Well training to everyone. It provides the link between pastures, nutrition, body condition and lambing. I would also encourage producers to get off farm, network and learn what other farmers are doing successfully.

More information

 Matthew Ipsen T: 0417 516 640

E: or to read his Nuffield report on improving lamb survival.

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