With a much better spring this year, it is critical not to get complacent. Our last two springs have been disappointing and required considerable effort to achieve good growth rates in lambs. The challenges this year are different, but just because we have more feed around, doesn't mean lamb growth rates will just fall in our laps.
It doesn't matter whether we are talking merino or prime lambs the concepts are still the same. For prime lambs the incentives are obvious, but for merinos growth is just as important as live weight and growth rate are both strongly correlated with weaner survival over summer.
So how do we do it?
- Wean lambs at the right time. Just because you have feed, doesn't mean lambs should stay on longer. You will need to prioritise the very best feed you have to your lambs. The ewes don't need it. They will get fat on anything at this time of year.
- Manage pastures specifically to maintain quality. Don't let pastures that you want lambs to graze get rank. The reality is that you most likely won't be able to control the whole farm, so concentrate on your best pastures and manage those. Let others get away and come back to them later with ewes
- Choose the right pastures. If your feed is green then there is likely to be enough protein. If it is an improved pasture of any type then energy is likely to fine too. So that only leaves one other variable, and the most important when it comes to lambs. Fibre! Choose pastures that they can eat truckloads of. Clover, lucerne, plantain, and chicory are all good options. Grass dominant pastures are higher in fibre (and getting higher as the season progresses) and will limit growth rates. Brassicas are good but very low in fibre and can result in less than optimal performance due to that.
- Get your animal health right. Don't spend all of your efforts getting pastures right only to find out you have been feeding worms not sheep.
- Monitor your growth rates. Ideally weigh a sample of lambs at marking, weaning and on a regular basis after weaning. Our client base has seen lamb growth rates up until marking of well over 500g/day. If you don't weigh them you won't know about it, and assume that the average growth rate up until weaning is representative of what they have done the whole time.
Don't just expect lamb growth rates to happen. Make them!