FEEDING pregnant ewes is an investment which can be repaid a number of times over through more lambs born and improved growth rates of the lambs to weaning.
That is one of the key messages Kangaroo Island sheep producer and 2013 Nuffield Scholarship winner Carly Buttrose has had reinforced on her scholarship world trip, which took in flocks in Britain, South America and New Zealand.
Her study tour - sponsored by Rabobank - has involved studying world's best practice to optimise the reproductive potential of sheep.
During her time away she has seen the huge importance of optimising in-utero nutrition.
Some countries such as NZ have the green feed to achieve this in the paddock, with long-growing seasons, but Carly believes Australian producers need to get better at supplementary feeding to meet the energy requirements - especially for those ewes bearing twins.
A genetic emphasis on maternal ability is also helping many flocks in Britain and New Zealand achieve weaning percentages of 180 per cent or more.
"They have a much greater focus on maternal traits and fertility like milking ability and temperament to get the genetic potential in their ewes," she said.
On the 2000-hectare Parndana property Carly manages for her family, they run 6500 Border Leicester-Merino ewes which are mated to White Suffolk sires to turn-off prime lambs, and 250 Angus-cross breeders.
Carly's travels have also made her realise that Australia is producing a heavy domestic lamb by world standards at 20 kilograms to 21kg carcaseweight.
"Most countries are producing 17kg to 18kg carcaseweight lambs so for Australian lamb producers, growth rates are even more important to get that extra 4kg at a similar age," she said.
She says British flocks may be smaller and managed more intensively including lambing indoors, but they have made genetic progress by having close interactions with their flocks -culling heavily on those ewes which do not lamb or mother their lambs each year.
Carly wants to see Merino stud breeders and maternal seedstock producers working towards implementing a new estimated breeding value in Lambplan for maternal ability incorporating temperament, with one of the only maternal ability indicators in Australia currently maternal weaning weight, which can have a lot of environmental impact.
"It shouldn't be too hard to measure the flight times of ewes when the lambs are being tagged - it could make such a difference to the industry in terms of growth rates," she said. " A ewe which flees an extra 5 metres at tagging has been shown to have a 3.5kg lighter lamb at weaning."
*Full report in Stock Journal, October 24 issue, 2013.