Mild winter sees lambs arrive in good shape

PETER WATSON
Last updated 05:00 04/09/2013
Lambs
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
THRIVING: High survival rates will offset a lower lamb drop this season

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Lambing has got off to a fine start in Nelson, boosted by mild weather and good grass growth.

This has meant high survival rates, which will help to offset a lower lamb drop, estimated to be about 10 per cent down on average across the region.

While lambing is well under way in coastal and lowland areas, it is only just starting on hill country farms and is still several weeks away around St Arnaud.

Town and Country vet Danny Hajdu said a "magical" start to spring had meant a largely trouble-free time for farmers, with the few problems encountered being caused by there being too much grass.

Pasture growth had been "marvellous" but had caused bearings in some ewes and some overly large lambs to be born.

He said scanning rates indicated that the number of lambs born in the region would be down at least 10 per cent on last year, as a result of last summer's drought.

Those farmers who put out the ram in autumn before it got too dry and feed dwindled would still end up with a reasonable lambing percentage, he said, as would those who mated their ewes later, after the rains came.

However, the rest would suffer, including some farmers facing a drop of 20-25 per cent.

Scanning ranged from a "catastrophic" 86 per cent to 186 per cent, he said.

Eleanor Greenhough said lambing was almost over on her Moutere farm, and she expected to finish with about 135 per cent once she had tailed, which was average.

Most of her lambs had been born when the weather was mild and dry, leading to one of the best survival rates she could remember.

However, she would end up with several hundred fewer because of a low pregnancy rate among her hoggets, a legacy of the drought.

She had also seen more ewes than normal die from infections. "I wonder if it has been so warm there are more bugs around."

Craig Martin said lambing was at "full tilt" among his 1500 ewes and 400 hoggets at his Rosedale property.

"It's going well, and our losses are low.

"It hasn't been cold, so there is no chill factor, and lambs born into a couple of days of fine weather thrive."

He said scanning had averaged 148 per cent among his ewes, which was higher than expected given the drought, something he attributed to focusing on genetics. They had also gone into lambing in good condition.

Ashley Peter, of Dovedale, said he expected a slightly lower lamb drop of around 130 per cent, with conditions set up well for a good season.

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Meanwhile, Beef + Lamb New Zealand South Island extension manager Ian Knowles said the promising start to lambing could help farm profitability if the weather held and survival rates remained high.

There were indications that lamb prices would be higher, he said. Scanning results were still high for the 10-year average, and grass growth was about a month ahead of late August levels, at 15 kilograms of dry matter a day for each hectare when usually it was 5-10/kg/dm/ha.

"We are seeing people who set stock for lambing with pasture covers outgrowing the sheep, which is unusual. That's great to have this at this time of the year, because at some stage stock will get on top of it."

Beef + Lamb said fewer ewe hoggets had been mated in the upper South Island as the dry autumn put them below the ideal weight for mating. Ewe weight was also lower at the mating period, and had contributed to lower scanning, but had recovered since.

Mr Knowles said most farmers would be happy with fewer multiple births, as it would lead to better lamb survival, generate fewer stragglers and perhaps reduce ewe deaths.

Farmers with spare growth were unlikely to pick up extra lambs and grow them on, because store lamb markets were small and the window before they cut their second teeth was shrinking.

- The Nelson Mail

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