Dry dents SA's lambing rates

Ewe nutrition critical in lambing percentages


THE state's sheep flock is forecast to fall in 2019 and this season's lambing percentages will do nothing to reverse this trend with the lambing percentages in many northern areas down at least 20 per cent.


THE state's sheep flock is forecast to fall in 2019 and this season's lambing percentages will do nothing to reverse this trend.

In pastoral areas, there have been reports of lambing percentages as low as 20 per cent, while areas such as the Mallee and Upper North remain on a knife-edge season-wise.

Even the South East, which has had a much more favourable season compared to many areas, is tipped to be down.

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Quorn livestock consultant Anne Collins says many flocks in the Upper North are lambing three to four weeks later than normal and lambs are yet to be marked.

But producers expect to be down at least 20pc to 30pc.

"With the way the season was going, some deliberately joined later or they put the rams out at the normal time, but because it was so dry they didn't kick into gear until about Christmas time," she said.

Ms Collins said some growers near Wilmington, which received 60 millimetres earlier in the month, had reported being in a better position than 2018, when ewes were leaving their lambs.

But more rain was desperately needed across the region.

"It is one thing to get lambs on the ground, but you have still got to have enough feed to get them through," she said.

"Many places are hanging on by the skin of their teeth and producers are already thinking about selling lambs as suckers rather than taking them through beyond weaning, especially crossbreds."

Mallee Sustainable Farming program manager Tanja Morgan says lambing across the Mallee has been a "mixed bag".

"Some have had good lambing percentages and there are some disappointing lambing percentages and every where in between, depending on the condition of the livestock and the feeding they have done," she said.

Ms Morgan says 2019 has been more difficult than the 2018 lambing season, when many producers had higher stocks of hay and grain on-hand after a reasonable 2017.

She said many producers began feeding sheep in early summer and have done a great job, recognising the value of their livestock.

But she said it would be a "juggling act" going forward, with little feed in paddocks and cold weather slowing pasture growth in the past week.

Ms Morgan urged producers to regularly reassess their situation.

"Those feeding sheep are getting tired and access to grain and hay is getting hard to find, but they are also aware of the need to get as many sheep through as they can," she said.

"They know to get back into sheep will be hard with prices high for a long time to come."

A lot of people were only looking to start (feeding) two weeks before lambing, which is just too late - Brendan Voss, Elders livestock production advisor

Elders livestock production advisor Brendan Voss says the lambing percentage of flocks in the Upper SE have generally been down 5-10pc on 2018, but those who had a good supplementary feeding plan had been rewarded, with up to 10-15pc more lambs than last season.

"It all comes down to nutrition," he said.

"This year we weren't as lucky as the past couple of years when we had an early break and feed up and away to meet the requirements of the ewe, so it had to come from hay and grain.

"A lot of people were only looking to start (feeding) two weeks before lambing, which is just too late."

Mr Voss said the best results had come from those who had kept feeding through lambing.

"A ewe's energy requirement peaks 30 days after lambing so for those who stopped (feeding), there was the risk of driving them into a state of pregnancy toxaemia," he said.

"Livestock are worth so much so it is 100pc justified putting grain down their neck. Even at $400 a tonne, there will be big rewards this year."

Keyneton lamb marking contractor Jason Treloar says this year will be first time he is unlikely to work in the North East pastoral area.

"Most of my pastoral clients did not worry about putting rams out and even those who did, I doubt there will be many (lambs) there," he said.

"Back in 2007-08, there was not many lambs, but this is the worst I have seen the country for a long time."

Mr Treloar is busy putting lambs through the cradle in the Barossa and surrounding districts and says many flocks are back about 20pc.

"In the area from Mount Pleasant to Eudunda, the Merinos are sitting about 85-90pc and crossbreds averaging 110-115pc," he said.

"What is there is fit and healthy, but it is a real mixed bag of percentages depending on what they could afford to feed them."


KYBYBOLITE stud and commercial breeder Brett Shepherd will start lamb marking next week, but is expecting fewer lambs this season with the tough autumn.

He predicts lambing percentages to be down 10 per cent to 15pc in both his stud and commercial flock.

"We've had green feed in April for the past couple of years, but this year was nearly an average mid-May break, so when they started lambing the paddocks were pretty bare," he said.

"We were still feeding a few mobs while they were lambing and there were a lot of twins where they left one behind."

He expects they will tag between 140-150pc lambs from their 1100 White Suffolk, Poll Dorset and Suffolk stud ewes and is hoping for 120pc marking rate in the Border Leicester-Merino commercial flock.

In the past decade, Brett and his wife Amanda have tripled their stud ewe numbers, buying two stud flocks and starting a Suffolk stud and are one of the largest sellers of British Breed rams in the SE.

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They have also grown their commercial flock to about 2000 ewes, seeing a bright future for the sheep industry.

"It (lamb) is a very good product and it is wanted worldwide by consumers, but we are one of the only countries producing it," he said.

"In Australia, sheep numbers are as low as they have been for a lot of years and unfortunately with (low) lambing percentages you hear about in the bush, it is going to take a long time to build numbers up again."

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