Lambing: the first KDP

John Ramsay runs 14,000 Merino and composite sheep at Bothwell, Tasmania.
John Ramsay runs 14,000 Merino and composite sheep at Bothwell, Tasmania.

John Ramsay

  • Property: Ratho
  • Location: Bothwell, Tasmania
  • Rainfall: 5-800mm
  • Property size: 1800ha
  • Livestock: 14,000 Merino and composite sheep
  • Soil type: Sandy, sandy clay loams
  • Pasture type: Fescue, short term ryegrass, annual grasses, irrigated ryegrass

    AS part of the MLA Challenge we have been given access to a prototype tool, the MLA management tool. This tool helps the business to plan the year, breaking it up into six Key Decision Points (KDPs). Within each KDP there are Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) which are measured targets that the business should be meeting in order to maximise production and profit.

    The KDPs I am focusing on at the moment are lambing. The ewes started lambing on August 4 and they all should be finished by September 15.

    The lambing KDP has six KPI’s. Three of the suggested KPI’s are ewe condition, feed quantity and quality, and

    mob size.

    During discussions about this particular KDP we decided to add an additional two KPI’s because we feel they are key profit drivers for our business. These are stocking rate and labour efficiency.

    The last KPI didn’t really fit in this KDP, but it fitted better than any other KDP and we felt it was important – scanning. Each year we have a scanner come and scan the ewes for triplets, twins, singles, earlies, lates and dries. This allows for planning in relation to lambing so we felt it does fit, albeit a little to the side!

    Each KPI is broken into five boxes. There is an explanation of why this KPI is important. A target for this KPI, this needs to measurable, challenging, but also realistic. The next box is last year’s result and then this year’s result. At the end there are suggested resources provided by MLA to help you with this KPI.

    Scanning: we have our scanning KPI to maximise lamb survival and stocking rate. Our target is to have 170 per cent of embryos in ewes. Once we have scanned and determined the categories each group is managed separately for their individual nutritional needs. This happens straight after scanning. We choose to scan earlies and lates, to utilise our later lambing country better. The 2013 scanning was 134pc, we didn’t pull out triplets as there weren’t enough. Previous year was 134pc in Merino ewes.

  • Ewe condition: This KPI at lambing is condition score 3 for singles and 3.5 for twins and triplets. This is to achieve adequate condition for lambing ease and to help prevent mismothering. This year we hit the target of 3 for singles and were a bit below at 3.2 for twins. Last year we averaged 2.7 for twins and singles combined. A good resource for this from MLA is Tool 10.4 (Recommended condition score and fat score targets for ewes) from Module 10: Wean more lambs of Making More From Sheep.

    Feed on Offer: This KPI also helps to prevent mismothering at lambing as well as ensuring adequate growth rates in lambs and helps to maintain ewe condition score. Our feed quantity KPI is 1200kg DM/ha for singles, and 1800kg DM/ha for twins on the flats and 2000kg DM/ha on the hills. The early singles, early twins and late twins all hit these targets this year. The late singles didn’t have 1200kg DM/ha as we didn’t have enough feed conserved for all mobs so these were the mob that suffered. The late twins now would be on about 1600kg DM/ha as I under budgeted their feed consumption, they will soon have another paddock which will give them 2000kg DM/ha. Last year we lambed on these targets. As we missed the target a bit this year, and next year hope to be running a lot more ewes, we will be moving the lambing date back 4 weeks to make sure the targets are achieved.

    Mob size: This KPI is twins no more than 200 per mob and singles no more than 400. This year we hit that target easily, with the largest single mob 200 and the largest twin mob 150.

    Stocking rate: We have this KPI so as we can maximise the meat produced from the grass grown. Stocking rate is a key profit driver in all grazing businesses. Last year we totally under budget how much feed the ryegrass would grow, and I don’t want the same situation to happen this spring, this has a flow on affect to our cropping enterprise.

    Our KPI is 4 dse per ha per 100mm rain on the flats and on the grazing country 3 dse/ha/100mm of rain. We also have a trading target of 10pc return on capital using an excel spreadsheet trading tool. We are also using the feed demand calculator and Rainfall to Pasture Growth Outlook Tool to fine tune this stocking rate. This KPI is still a work in progress and I am liaising with MLA in regards to fully understanding the ins and outs of the feed demand calculator. I have found the pasture growth outlook tool very interesting, we are likely to have an above average spring growth based on sea surface temperatures, but have had one of the lowest pasture growths in history based on rainfall to the start of August. Using the stocking rate calculator, we could be 8,000 dse short of where we need to be, but using our bench marks we are about 2000 dse short. We have just bought 40 trade cattle today, and will be looking for more. The trade purchase is only budgeted to do 11pc return on capital. Last year we only ran 1.5 dse/ha/100mm on the grazing country and 3 dse/ha/100mm on the flats.

    Our last KPI is labour efficiency: We have added this KPI as labour is our biggest expense on the farm, and it is one that needs constant monitoring and fine tuning. Our KPI is 8000 dse per labour unit. This is below industry benchmarks of 10,000 dse per labour unit, however we have been running at only 7,000 dse per labour unit last year, and because we are changing the system there is a lot of ‘capital’ work needed - mainly in fences and water. Our long term goal is 10,000 dse. We hope to get there with simpler systems, systems with scale, less finishing or trading and better infrastructure. A good resource for this is the MLA publication Sheep - the simple guide for making more money with less work.

    So that is an overview of our first KDP and the KPI’s that are involved in this. Hopefully this time next year we will see some noticeable improvements. The next KDP we are focusing on is lamb marking.

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