Sheep farmers have a lot to learn from the dairy industry about feeding stock.
That is according to former AgResearch scientist Tom Fraser, who praised the simple yet effective system dairy farmers had developed.
"They do feed budgeting, they set targets and they put plans in place. And they do it regularly and successfully," he said.
Fraser said sheep farmers needed to follow the dairy industry's lead and learn to feed their stock better to optimise lamb production.
He said ewes were typically underfed in late pregnancy and early lactation, which resulted in poor ewe condition, lower lamb survival and lambs not achieving target weights.
"We're not achieving close to our optimum feeding levels. Most ewes have two or three lambs in them at scanning but we haven't changed our feeding to reflect this," Fraser said.
Fraser told sheep farmers at a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Farming for Profit field day at Wyndham recently that they needed to grow more grass to feed their ewes.
"Planning is critical to achieving a good financial outcome," he said. Pasture covers on sheep farms at this time were far too low at 1000 to 1200 kilograms of dry matter a hectare, he said. "It's physically impossible for a ewe to harvest her feed requirements. Our pasture covers at set stocking are 300 to 400kg lower than they should be."
Fraser praised the actions of dairy farmers who grazed their stock off-farm during the winter, which resulted in high pasture covers at calving.
However, many of those cows were being grazed by sheep farmers, who could be sacrificing their own production, he said.
"Dairy cows are a good cash flow but are you feeding your own animals to their requirements?" he said.
Fraser said sheep farmers may have to rethink their winter management practices and grow more supplements for their stock in order to grow more pasture.
They also may need to consider whether grazing dairy cows was a worthwhile investment.
A ewe was capable of growing two lambs at 300 grams a day during lactation but most sheep farmers were only achieving 220 grams a day at weaning at 100 days, he said.
"The easiest time to grow lambs is when they are on their mum but we are doing it very poorly."
Fraser estimated Southland sheep were at least half a body condition score lower than they should be at this time of the year, which meant farmers could expect less lambs at tailing.
Having ewes at a body condition score of 3 would result in increased lamb survival and higher lamb growth rates, he said.
TOM'S TOP TIPS FOR SHEEP FARMERS
-Feed sheep for profit year round
-Planning is critical for best financial outcomes
-Learn how to feed stock from dairy farmers
-Lamb growth can be maximised by feeding ewes well during pregnancy, lactation and post-weaning
-Focus on feeding multiple scanned ewes well
-Winter feeding is all about quantity as quality looks after itself
-Realise that ewe body condition affects colostrum production
-Shift sheep onto new pasture before they need to be shifted
- The Southland Times