Time of Lambing

Time of lambing is one of the most important decisions that sheep producers make in their system, and yet it is often one that is taken for granted or seldom reviewed.

Time of lambing is a major profit driver, as it has significant effect on the ability to optimise the ewe winter stocking rate, number of lambs weaned and the turn–off weight of the lambs in lamb production systems and wool cut per head, micron and point of break in wool production systems.

There is no one recipe for everyone, but it’s important to know what is right for your sheep enterprise and farm business

In 2011, autumn lambers have noticed how easy and low cost it has been during lambing as ewes have been in good condition from the summer feed, lamb survival is good and there has been limited supplementary feeding. Supplementary feeding carries three costs, namely the feed itself; and two hidden costs - the cost of labour to feed it, and most importantly the competition, compromise and losses it causes other enterprises on the farm.

It’s important to reflect on the positives of this season, as later lambers experience these conditions in most seasons, not just 1 in 10 years. Similarly, large croppers who have most of their feed available in summer/autumn should perhaps be considering an even earlier lambing, depending on hot weather.

So where do you start to make an assessment of your time of lambing?

Determining your Cost of Production(CoP) is a good start as it is:

  • A simple easy first step to benchmarking
  • A key performance indicator of efficiency and risk
  • Measurable over time
  • An idea of what is achievable ( targets)
  • Useful in exploring options; like, "what-if I changed time of lambing?"

Over the last 2 years, over 80 SA sheep producers have participated in Making More from Sheep Cost of Production workshops and have determined the following benchmarks to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their sheep enterprises:

SA Lamb & Cleanskin Sheep ( $/kgDW) and Wool ($/kg greasy) Cost of Production Benchmarks




Cleanskin Sheep




Direct costs







Labour & labour related
















Cost of Production








Most importantly, these benchmarks are allowing producers to analyse their sheep enterprises year on year and monitor the change and improvement, but at the same time, they can benchmark themselves against others in the district or state, and against the largest livestock database in southern Australia – Holmes Sackett.

From lowest to highest cost, the early suggestions to be considered for improvement in enterprise efficiency are:

  • Enterprise structure and labour efficiency
  • Align feed supply to feed demand
  • Optimising the utilisation of existing pastures
  • Increase the productivity of existing pastures
  • Sowing new, more productive pastures, but only when you’ve identified and corrected what led to their demise.