Technology the key for merino condition

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2013
David Anderson has lifted ewe lambing by 15 per cent at Bog Roy Station.
Fairfax NZ
EWE BEAUTY: David Anderson has lifted ewe lambing by 15 per cent at Bog Roy Station.

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High country farmers are making headway with stepping up production to make their merino flocks more profitable.

New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) chief executive John Brakenridge said the good attendance at last week's NZM Production Science field day at Hawarden showed the level of confidence in work being done in the fine wool industry and projects to lift production were gaining traction with farmers.

"There are a significant number of sheep growers adopting new technologies and accelerating production gains on their properties across genetics and forage - with a renewed focus on fine wool," he said.

Research had shown ewes lost on average half a condition score during late pregnancy, which caused problems, including poor lamb survival, growth and lower conception values the following season.

Modelling had shown it was more profitable for a sheep farmer to maintain the condition of their ewes than to graze dairy cows during this crucial period, with a difference of 75 cents a kilogram of dry matter in favour of sheep.

Brakenridge said a sign of the success of ongoing projects was the high-quality talent attracted to the industry.

"These people are joining the industry to participate in research across all areas of the industry. The shift in the merino industry is a unique case study in the New Zealand sheep and beef industry for its integrated skill base - in markets to understand the value chain, brand strategy, environmental, textile and production sciences."

Bog Roy Station farmers David and Lisa Anderson, from Omarama, wean their lambs after 100 days - 14.2 weeks - and body-condition score the flock at a target rate of three-plus in samples of about 50 ewes after weaning, before mating, when the rams are removed, at scanning, at set stocking and tailing.

They also weigh their ewes three times during the year. At weaning, ewes under the condition target are placed on better feed, then forage with the rest of the mob on the hills to build them up before going to the ram again.

The Andersons changed from finishing lambs themselves to selling store lambs to other finishers about three years ago, and have lifted their overall lambing percentage by 15 per cent. The mixed- age ewes lambed at 130 per cent and the two tooths at 100 per cent. The twin-bearing ewes are fed on either lucerne or irrigated pasture. The lambs go in mid-January with an average weight target of 30 kilograms at weaning.

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David Anderson said the scanning results of the ewes have remained at 165 per cent the last three years, but lambing losses have gone from 30 per cent to 21 per cent.

"This is because of all the steps we have taken - better feeding, lambing in smaller mobs and the ewes getting a better rest after weaning."

Wanting to spell their 2800 hectare property over winter, they no longer have to budget for 100 days of feed over this period and have been able to lower their stocking rate.

"If we can produce the same kilogram total of lamb out the gate as we were when we were finishing lambs, but do it with store lambs by achieving a better lambing percentage and increased weaning weight, then we have achieved a good result."

- The Press

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