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Fit to Join – Ewe Assessment Tools

Maximising ewe and lamb survival and health during lambing is a high priority for the sheep industry to address both animal welfare and productivity imperatives.

To date most RDE&A has focused on improving ewe nutrition during pregnancy and management during lambing and weaning. There remains an untapped opportunity to improve lamb survival outcomes though more rigorous ewe assessment and selection before joining. This approach will ensure all ewes joined are fit to rear healthy lambs. Factors such as udder condition and lameness are likely to be key selection tools, however, there is a lack of robust data for some traits (e.g. teeth, past lambing performance). Selection and management of ewe lambs pre-joining and post-lambing is critical to ensure their fitness for lambing the next year. Research also indicates that older ewes may be more susceptible to specific health issues (e.g. metabolic disorders). 

This project will contribute to filling this information gap by conducting case studies on commercial farms, tracking ewes classed pre-joining; developing a ute guide covering fitness to join and the management implications for high risk ewes. A step-by-step ‘how-to’ video for assessing udder condition, which is a critical skill and not something that can be readily conveyed in written material, will also be produced. The ute guide will include the use of cost-benefit scenarios to assist in decision making, in addition to information and processes for ewe selection. These tools will be designed to be incorporated into existing extension activities as complementary resources (e.g. Lifetime Ewe Management, Bred Well Fed Well and Picking Performer Ewes). Short refresher sessions for past extension program participants (and deliverers) will also be developed for delivery by industry.