THE Merino ewe is so valuable she should be privatised.
This was a humorous quip by University of WA senior research fellow John Milton that underpinned the serious role the Merino ewe has to play to rebuild the Australian sheep flock.
Dr Milton spoke at the Calcaling workshop at the Ventris family's farm near Muckinbudin.
He stressed the importance of cost-effectively feeding Merino ewes to conceive and rear more lambs that grow to their genetic potential and contribute to the overall profitability of the livestock enterprise.
"The Merino ewe is the mother of the sheep industry and although she has a few problems help is on the way," he said.
"Through good care and management she can play a vital role to lift the productivity of any farming enterprise."
Dr Milton reinforced the importance of colostrum to the survival of new born lambs.
He said research showed a large supplement one week before lambing could markedly improve the viscosity and production of colostrum.
"This should ultimately lift lamb survival," he said.
"Up to 20pc of singles lambs and 60pc of twin lambs from Merino ewes die around birth, a statistic that equates to around 10 million lambs per year in Australia," he said.
"Colostrum is essential to provide lambs with energy, antibodies and water and plays a major role in initiating the strong maternal bond between the ewe and her lamb or lambs."
According to Dr Milton, a large increase in nutrient uptake in the last week of pregnancy reduces the level of progesterone in the blood which helped the onset of colostrum production.
"The quantity of colostrum in the udder at lambing is increased when extra glucose is available for colostrum synthesis," he said.
"This can be achieved through feeding a large grain supplement in the week before lambing to give ewes a lot of glucose and some extra protein."
Dr Milton said reducing the viscosity and increasing the volume of colostrum allowed the ewe to suckle her lamb or lambs which strengthened her bond with the lamb.
This also enabled the lambs to suck enough colostrum to meet their needs for energy, antibodies and water.
"Research on feeding cracked corn to ewes in late pregnancy lowers the viscosity and increases the volume without an increase in lamb body weight," he said.
According to Dr Milton, comparative research using whole barley as a supplement for pregnant ewes one week before lambing significantly increased the amount of colostrum available and markedly reduced the viscosity of the colostrum with only a modest rise in the body weight of twins.
"Now we have a strategy we can use in WA and this should help us achieve the desired outcome to improve lamb survivability especially twins from Merino ewes," Dr Milton said.
He said other ways to ensure the arrival of more live lambs could include re-mating sound old ewes that were proven breeders and mating well-grown Merino maidens weighing above 40kg after January.
Paying particular attention to rams was also critical and Dr Milton recommended using up to 3pc of rams for tight joinings to facilitate a high level of management.
"New rams should be purchased early and rams should be shorn at least two months prior to joining," he said.
"In addition they should be examined well before joining and lupin-feeding is also advisable for seven weeks prior to joining, especially with tight matings."
It was important that farmers learnt to condition score sheep so they could guague if the feed available met the needs of the flock.
"Ewes should be mated at a condition score of three," Dr Milton said.
"Lambing could be increased by around 10pc if ewes are mated at a condition score of three rather than two."
According to Dr Milton, ewes with twins needed to be privatised to give them special attention and to avoid pregnancy toxaemia, ensure good birth weights and colostrum production to ultimately lift lamb survival.