A Charles Sturt University survey of livestock producers using sheep containment areas has shown while pregnancy rates are usually good there is wide variation in the percentage of lambs marked.
The research by Dr Susan Robertson, from the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, aimed to benchmark practices for containment or supplementary feeding ewes, identify common issues, and find out whether reproductive performance could be improved.
Dr Robertson said containment feeding has been widely used in recent years to efficiently maintain breeding ewes through drought conditions.
“Unfortunately, sheep producers can expect dry periods at some time in the future,” she said. “Knowing how to get the best ewe performance when containment feeding is important.”
Dr Robertson said the survey has provided insight on the performance of breeding ewes in containment areas or when supplementary fed in the paddock.
“There was a very wide range in feeding and husbandry practices used, but most producers reported good pregnancy rates, ranging from 78 to 95 per cent for adult Merino ewes, and up to 99 per cent for non-Merino flocks, which is exceptional,” Dr Robertson said.
“We often expect pregnancy rates to be reduced in drought due to ewes being in lower condition, but most flocks were 2.5 to 3.5 condition score which is ideal.
“The percentage of lambs marked to ewes joined ranged from 60 to 115 per cent in adult Merino, and in non-Merino 82 to 161 per cent.”
Dr Robertson said the causes of the variation couldn’t be isolated from the survey responses.
“Variation in the rates of pregnancy, twinning and lamb survival all contribute, and the main limitation and cause may differ between flocks.
“The variation does show that some producers are achieving excellent marking rates even after tough conditions but other producers reported a reduction in performance compared with normal grazing years.
“We’d like to thank all producers who took part in the survey, the information gained will inform our research investigating strategies to improve lamb marking rates in feeding situations.”
Sheep producers can also find detailed information on containment feeding in updated guidelines on the Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) website, or by contacting their local land services or other sheep specialist advisors.