Be Ready for Rebuilding

Sunday, July 21, 2019

By Tiffany Bennett, Livestock Consultant

A combination of high fodder prices and limited access to fodder due to seasonal conditions has forced producers to reduce core breeding animal numbers in some parts of the state.

While ongoing drought management is a reality for many producers, high returns from the sheep enterprise and the likelihood of high restocking costs have some producers starting to think about strategies to rebuild their flocks when the season breaks.

It can take two to three years to rebuild a flock, depending on the number of breeding ewes sold.

While buying replacement animals provides an opportunity to change direction or breeding objectives, many other factors will come into consideration.

Adequate finance is required if buying animals. The present level of debt is one factor to be considered. Breeding up numbers may be the less expensive option, but the reduced cash flow needs to be considered.

Producers with mixed operations may have other opportunities, such as increasing the area cropped, or allocating additional paddocks to hay, to help replenish feed stocks.

Trading animals has been an option in or following previous droughts, but stock may be in short supply and expensive given the widespread nature of challenging season.

Depending on when and how widespread opening rains are, options for agistment or sharefarming arrangements may be an alternative. Keep your ears open and identify opportunities early.

If breeding back or a combination of breeding and restocking are used, retaining older cast for age ewes, reducing culling levels of productive animals, and management to maximise lamb survival and weaning rates should be considered.

Pregnancy scanning, ensuring ewes have adequate nutrition and limiting mob size can improve lamb survival significantly.

Strategies to accelerate breeding are often considered. Potential strategies include mating ewe lambs, lambing three times in two years, and the use of treatments to increase ovulation rates of ewes or improve out of season breeding. Each of these strategies needs careful consideration and planning, and should not be viewed as the ‘silver bullet’.

Mating ewe lambs involves having them conceive at seven to nine months of age, rather than the traditional 18 months.

If this strategy is being considered, it is important to remember the fertility of ewe lambs is generally lower, and mortality can be higher.

To maximise fertility they must be at 60 per cent of their mature bodyweight at mating.

They also require higher quality feed during pregnancy and lactation to account for the fact they are still growing.

Reaching target mating weights of ewe lambs during a drought and sustaining them adequately through pregnancy and lactation can be costly and difficult to achieve; young growing animals are often the first to suffer during drought.

Lambing ewes three times in two years is also considered by some producers.

This results in a lambing interval of eight months and timing of this varies but needs to consider that some sheep are seasonal breeders and are stimulated to cycle once day length begins to shorten. Merinos are the least sensitive, followed by the British breeds. Long wool breeds such as the Border Leicester are the most sensitive.

There are treatments available to aid out of season breeding and the use of teaser rams can also be considered.

Again, it is important to consider that nutrition and condition score of the ewes is critical for accelerated lambing to be successful and requires additional high quality feed not often originally budgeted for.

Treatments to increase ovulation rates in ewes are available, but they are not recommended for Merino ewes.

Ewes must be in optimal condition score and the nutritional needs of the ewes met throughout pregnancy and lactation.

It is important to cost out and budget any decision and understand the impacts on future income when making a recovery plan.

This is of particular importance if the business is in a tight financial situation, as poor decision-making now can have a significant effect on long-term business viability. Utilising all arable land to generate an income should be considered in line with available finance.

Be ready for Rebuilding