Improving lambs through nutrition

28 Jul, 2004 10:00 PM

AGRICULTURE Department researchers are in the early stages of a study which will benefit the lamb industry, and in particular eastern Wheatbelt producers.

The study looks at improving lamb quality and weight for different breeds in the eastern wheatbelt through better nutrition of ewe weaners.

Agriculture Department research officer Tanya Kilminster of Merredin said increasing sheep numbers and improving the quality of the turned-off lamb is a priority for eastern Wheatbelt sheep producers.

"This pilot study aims to demonstrate to local producers that the nutrition of the ewe is vital for improved lamb numbers and performance," Ms Kilminster said.

"It will also give initial estimates on the relationship between nutrition and performance for different breeds."

The pilot study, which has been set-up to determine whether improved ewe nutrition during pregnancy and lactation will increase lamb carcase weights and reduce the time taken to turn-off lambs in the low rainfall eastern Wheatbelt, is being run at the Department's research station at Merredin.

Three breeds are being examined - Merino, Dorper and Damara.

"Generally, current farming practice in the eastern Wheatbelt does not include supplementary feeding of ewes prior to ram joining, during joining nor through pregnancy or lactation," Ms Kilminster said.

"Producers in the eastern Wheatbelt are also looking to diversify their sheep enterprises and the adoption of non-wool breeds such as the Dorper and Damara is on the increase - yet there is limited quantitative performance information available."

The study also aims to quantify the weaning percentages and additional carcase weight that results from improved ewe weaner nutrition during pregnancy and lactation, and to assess the economic performance of the three breeding groups under two nutritional regimes.

Already the study has found for same age ewe weaners, F1 White Dorper ewes are consistently heavier than F1 Damaras, who are in turn heavier than pure Merinos.

"At nine months of age, the average weights for the F1 White Dorpers, F1 Damara and pure Merino was 49.2kg, 45.4kg and 37.6kg respectively at joining," Ms Kilminster said.

As part of the trial the ewes were pregnancy scanned and the following potential lambing percentages recorded: F1 White Dorper 114pc, and F1 Damaras 106pc.

The Merinos which were divided into three sire groups, had potential lambing percentages of 55pc when mated with Merinos, 18pc when mated to Dorper rams and 14pc when mated to Damara rams.

Ms Kilminster said lambing is due in August and further analysis will take place to quantify the relationship between liveweight, condition, age, breed and pregnancy and subsequent lambing.

"This pilot study has the main focus in demonstrating to producers in the low rainfall eastern wheatbelt that improving ewe nutrition will improve lamb production, therefore impacting favourably on profit," Ms Kilminister said.

"We are hoping at the conclusion of the study, initial estimates about the differences in response to improved maternal nutrition across the three breeds will be obtained.

"Hopefully it will provide some useful recommendations to sheep producers in the eastern Wheatbelt."



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