Lifting Lamb Survival




Smart Group - BW & RD Smart - “Akeringa”



Keith, SA


Average Rainfall:




Mixed – cropping, lucerne, hay, Merino & X-bred.; 5400 Merino ewes joined in 2020.


Farm Area:

5665 ha

Whilst cropping dominates the Smart Group business at Keith, in South Australia’s upper SE, sheep still play an important role. A key goal is to improve the sheep system to optimise returns for the whole business.

During the period 2015 to 2019, the Smarts improved their total lamb marking by 10% to 122% of ewes joined. This increase was achieved through improved management which included strategic grazing of crops, maintaining ewes in optimum condition, feeding ewes to meet their requirements, and through targeting favourable genetic traits in their breeding program. Their business philosophy of “do the best with what we’ve got – do it, and do it right” has served them well in this regard.    

In 2017, livestock manager Aaron Woods undertook the Lifetime Ewe Management course with Daniel Schuppan (Landmark), and is now following that up with the Lifting Lamb Survival program with Elke Hocking. Involvement in these programs have equipped the Smart Group team with the skills to be more aware of critical targets and track their flock’s performance and pastures, and evaluate improvements and downfalls.

The business was running 1500 ewes in 2015, with this increasing to 5,400 ewes (mated) in 2020. The 2018/19 season however taught the Smart Group team valuable lessons in how far they could “push” the system, with the number of lambs marked down by 20% on 2018. Although the South East saw an average break to the season, a longer-than-usual run of dry months in conjunction with depleted soil moisture levels resulted in the driest start to lambing in five years. Subsequently, heavier-than-usual stocking numbers resulted in sub-optimal amounts of good-quality feed on offer. Skills learnt through the training is helping to tackle this seasonal variability better.  

The best chance of achieving their goal of lifting lamb survival is by preparing well nutritionally; Aaron insists on their sheep always being maintained in good condition – condition score 3.5 to 4. The diversity of enterprises (livestock, cropping, lucerne seed, and hay) enables strategic grazing, with paddock rotations across Lucerne, oat/vetch and barley. Up to 600 hectares of oats/vetch and oats/barley are sown for sheep feed.

Ewes lamb down in May/June. The lucerne enterprise provides reliable, high quality feed for ewes to lamb down on. Target stocking rate for lambing is around 6 ewes per hectare for twins and 8 ewes per hectare for singles, grazing irrigated lucerne.  The carrying capacity on the dryland lucerne is much lower, with it being stocked at 2 ewes per hectare. Singles are placed in containment pre-lambing.  

Monitoring feed on offer and knowing what your stock require has been a key skill Aaron continues to practice. Measuring feed on offer by cutting, drying and weighing samples regularly allows Aaron to accurately assess the kilograms of dry matter per hectare. He can then estimate pasture/feed growth rates (in kilograms dry matter of pasture/hectare/day). Using these figures and amounts required by the different classes of stock he can then do a feed budget to determine appropriate stocking rates and how long individual paddocks will carry the stock.

“Anything you can measure, you need to be doing it”

In addition to assessing paddock condition, the Smart Group pregnancy scan their ewes to enable preferential allocation of feed resources to twinning ewes. In 2020, the ewes have scanned in lamb at 154%. The target marking is 120% plus.

Shearing is undertaken every six months in March and September. Ewes are shorn about 6 weeks before lambing.  Staple length is a key attribute, particularly with a six month shearing, that the Smart group have improved over the last five years. Sheep selection has resulted in length increasing from 45-50 mm to 65-70mm. Using ASBV’s is an important selection tool used with ram selection, in combination with visual selection.