Driving Fertility and Productivity




Darren, Fiona and April Sanders, and Tas Hawthorn



Coombe, SA


Average Rainfall:




Merino Sheep and Lucerne seed


Farm Area:

840 ha

Philosophy: ‘benchmark production on profit per hectare not profit per animal’ 

Focusing on fertility through ewe nutrition has been the key to driving productivity and profitability in the Sanders sheep enterprise. The aim is for a condition score target for ewes of CS3 plus. “Any ewes that are less than condition score 3 are run as a separate mob and managed to improve condition score. Prior to joining we only had 10 ewes that did not reach target condition scores” April said. 

Lambing time has also been another key driver of productivity. Traditionally the Sanders lambed in May, but now lamb in July/August. The main driver of this was to lamb when feed availability was high to meet the requirements of the lactating ewes. This change has allowed an increase in ewe numbers from 1500 ewes to 2800 ewes. The aim is to increase ewe numbers a further 200, to 3000 ewes next year. 

The feedbase on the Sanders property is 90-95% Lucerne. One third of the area is used for lucerne seed production under irrigation and the remaining two thirds for grazing. To increase feed availability the Sanders will often oversow dryland and irrigated lucerne with barley or rye. This also provides competition for grass seed plants and provides additional feed that can be cut for hay and used in the containment pens. 

The Sanders have minimal sheep health issues on their Lucerne based pastures. Sheep are not grazed on high risk pastures which is determined by leaf colour, growth stage and 3-4 weeks after irrigating. When introducing trading sheep to high quality lucerne pastures, hay is used to transition them on to the Lucerne feedbase. A customised mineral lick is offered to ewes and the Sanders have observed that intakes of this will vary depending on the quality of the feed on offer. The lick is offered during winter and spring leading up to and during lambing. 

Containment feeding is a key management tool for the sheep enterprise and April says “it alleviates the stress of paddock degradation. “Containment feeding is undertaken for around 3-4 months (January to April. Irrigated pasture becomes available toward the end of April). Ewes are fed in containment when they are dry/early pregnancy while the requirements of the ewe are lower, and it allows for optimal carrying capacity during winter and spring. Matching high production and feed requirements during late pregnancy and lambing has helped drive profit. April says “containment feeding has taken the pressure off the farm particularly when we are closing areas for lucerne seed production at the start of December.” 

All ewes are pregnancy scanned. Ewes with multiples are allocated the better Lucerne based pastures. Generally the ewes scan two thirds multiples and one third singles. April says “we monitor and manage the Lucerne feedbase rather than supplementary feed with grain”.

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