With lambing on the horizon, and scanning behind us, I’d hope that most farmers now know how many lambs they’re expecting in the coming months. Be it more or less than previous years, from now on, to maximise potential, it’s all about lamb survivability.
Now is a great time to sit back and look at your set stocking plan for lambing. Grab a map of your farm, past years lambing to weaning data if you have it, a note pad and a coffee.
Take the time to assess every paddock, even the ones you don’t typically use during lambing time.
1. Feed available
2. Previous years data
3. Location, location, location
4. Mob size reduction
5. Opportunity to improve
- Feed available
Feed available comes down to the simple fact of, twins need more, singles need less, triplets need roughage and privacy. By now twins should be on better tucker, pre-lamb they should be grazing pasture at no less than 1200kg DM/ha. Any less than this and lamb survivability will be reduced. Not only does limited feed reduce foetal lamb growth, but it also affects mammary development, leading to limited or delayed colostrum and an overall reduced milk production. So, regardless of how ‘good’ a paddock is in every other way, if it doesn’t have the feed, then it isn’t good.
- Previous years data
Previous years data is some of the most beneficial information when it comes to set stocking. If you can see trends in survival rates from paddock to paddock, make note of it. Also, make a note to record a bit more data this year, you’ll thank yourself in a years time. This task may point out the obvious, but it could throw up some surprises that could make you re-think your set stocking plan this year. Also, think ahead of lambing. Did you come across any bottlenecks last year during marking or weaning? Now is the time to problem solve this, there may be a solution in your set stocking plan.
- Location, location, location
Location is an interesting one. Morning sun can save a lamb, a deep creek bed could be the end of it. The general consensus is to put your most vulnerable in your best paddocks and vice versa. But have you thoroughly assessed which paddocks are your best and worst recently? Looking at paddock history and discussing this with team members who have worked on previous lambings could bring up interesting perspectives.
For example, we have one paddock that is very safe, great contour and has a decent amount of grass and is very well sheltered. But every year we have a poor twin survival rate. It has everything else going for it as a “good” lambing paddock. But it isn’t. During our discussion, we established that, of all the paddocks on the farm, this one holds the fog for most of the day in early spring. So, this year our solution is to lamb single- bearing hoggets in there, a month later, in hopes that the weather will be warmer and there’ll be less fog and higher survivability. We may be completely wrong, it may not be the fog. I’ll update you in 3 months!
...assess every paddock, even the ones you don’t typically use during lambing time...
- Mob size reduction
Mob size has been a hot topic recently. Interference from other ewes can cause chaos. There is no optimum mob size as it is all dependent, but your twins should be stocked at 40-50% of your single mob size, and ideally no more than 100 per paddock in twins.
Recent research by Amy Lockwood and Andrew Thompson of Murdock University has shown that for every 100 ewes you take out of a lambing mob, lamb survival goes up 2-4% in twin-bearing ewes. If you can start with dividing your biggest mob of twins first for the most gain. So if you were to split a mob of 400 into two mobs of 200, you will gain around 5% survival.
Using temporary subdivision also allows you to utilise better areas of large paddocks for more vulnerable stock. For example, we have a paddock that is best for singles due to deep creeks and limited shelter. However, 1⁄3 of it would be ideal for 50 twins and has the best grass. So, we’re putting up a 3 wire electric fence and putting twins there this year. We’re both making the most of our better contour, better grass, and finding a home for those last 50 twins that otherwise would be spread amongst other mobs, crowding those paddocks.
- Opportunity to improve
The opportunity to improve sums up all of the paddock audit. Only the very lucky few will have enough perfect lambing paddocks to house all of their ewes. Not every paddock will be ideal. Make sure you note why, and how you can improve this. Would it be better suited to cattle mouths or dry hoggets? Could creeks be fenced off? Will planting a shelterbelt help?
Is there potential to subdivide during lambing to reduce mob size? In agriculture, there is always a solution to a problem if you think hard enough.
Take the opportunity this year to flip things up a bit, or at least discover where your weak points are so you can make changes in time for set stocking next year.