Managing sheep over summer

AG ADVICE - November 2021

Brett Littler - Senior Land Services Officer, Livestock

The current good feed supply does not mean that good sheep production will necessarily follow. Small increases in the body weight and fat score of your sheep can and will determine a number of profit drivers of your flock. Most of these are well documented like conception rates of ewes and survival rates of lambs and weaners. So, this summer is shaping up as one we need to manage to ensure we capture this potential.

Small increases in weaning weight will make big difference to weaner survival, for example; a 14kg weaner has a 34% lower mortality risk than a 12kg weaner.

How you manage the growth rate of weaner sheep can dramatically reduce mortality rates; an increase of 250-500 grams per month can reduce the risk of weaner death by 74%. Faster growing and heavier weaners accumulate more body reserves that can be used if needed. The close association between growth rate, bodyweight and mortality risk means that supplementary feeding may be cost effective.

Feeding lambs four or five times while they are still on their mothers will teach the lambs to eat grain.  This is a good idea as it will reduce the time taken to get weaners onto feed when you think they need it.

The two targets for weaners are:

  • a weaning weight of 20kg and 45% of adult weight by pasture senescence
  • a growth rate of 1kg per month after weaning

Turning pasture into animal product in a good season requires management of pasture by adjusting the stocking density on fast growing pastures to keep pace with growth rates.  A big overburden of spring feed can limit summer pasture production this is another issue that needs to be planned for on the farm.

What strategy and tactics do you plan to use to manage pasture areas on your farm?  What parts of the farm are going to be managed and what parts are being left?  It's time to plan ahead, assess your pastures and match your livestock to the appropriate pasture.

The longer the growing season the lower the feed digestibility over summer as pastures senesce. Lower digestibility means poorer animal production from the bulk of dead pasture. As a result, some tactical and target supplementation may be needed to reach your production targets. Tools like the NSW DPI Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator can help you work out what is required.

How do you plan to manage the excess pasture you are growing? Fodder storage, seed production, buying more sheep, buying more cattle?  As some of us found out last season doing nothing may not be the best option as this excesses feed had a big influence on our legume content and was the cause of performance and health issues.

Do you have the high-quality pastures required to grow store lambs out to joining weights?

There will be several animal health problems that will occur like worms, flies, feet, mineral deficiencies, etc... Talk to our local District Vets about managing these metabolic disease issues.

Sheep prices are high, but management will be required to realise potential profits.

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