Cold, wet, winter weather creates extra challenges for sheep, particularly lambing ewes, but making sure they have adequate feed and shelter off shears and right through to lamb marking is definitely worth the effort.
That’s the view of Northern Tablelands Local Land Services District Vet, Andrew Biddle, who says extra care with animal welfare over the winter will pay big dividends in farm profits.
“With lamb prices so high, it makes sense to do everything possible to maximise lambing percentages and survival right through to marking and then to market.
“Strategies to increase lamb survival are particularly important in the final third of the ewe’s pregnancy when adequate nutrition and shelter are critical,” said Dr Biddle.
If you can increase your lambing rates and get those lambs through to market, there is a lot of extra money to be made even in small mobs.
“Bringing merino lambing rates up over 100 percent and increasing crossbred rates to over 130 percent is achievable with the right planning.
“If you can increase your lambing rates and get those lambs through to market, there is a lot of extra money to be made even in small mobs.”
“Winter shearing can put significant stress on sheep, particularly ewes in lamb, and they will have additional nutrition requirements fresh off shears, to maintain their body temperature.”
Dr Biddle said sheep with good fat reserves can cope with cold weather much better than sheep in marginal condition, or young weaners which tend to be less robust than mature stock.
Ideally planning will have been in place to ensure stock are in medium score condition when they arrive at the shed.
“When sheep are freshly shorn, it’s imperative to keep an eye on sheep graziers’ warnings about the weather.
“Wet and windy weather off shears can be very hard on stock, so providing sheltered paddocks or shedding if practical, can significantly reduce stock losses,” he said.
“Providing hay will also make a big difference, helping to warm sheep from the inside out, as the bacteria in the rumen that break down roughage create heat.
“Pregnant animals grazing short green feed are often at risk of metabolic problems such as ketosis, hypocalcaemia and grass tetany.
“The benefits of good planning and supplementary feed to keep ewes in satisfactory body condition will flow through from shearing to lambing, and then on to higher survival rates and better growth in lambs after marking.
"Additionally, minimising predation through pre-emptive baiting is a better strategy than waiting to see signs of foxes or dogs.
“With lamb prices currently so high, failing to provide essential nutrition and shelter for your flock is effectively throwing money away.
“It may even be time for a rethink about when you shear. While many farmers have long held routines, these days the high price of lamb as a meat product can far outweigh the value of wool, so it’s worth reflecting on whether your traditional management plan is still getting the best outcomes for your business.”
For more information on sheep health and nutrition contact Northern Tablelands Local Land Services District Vet, Andrew Biddle, on 0427 825 725.