Constantly learning on Lake Grace farm

Constantly learning on Lake Grace farm

Sheep
Graham Moir (left), Borden, producer speaker Graham Milton, Lake Grace and MLA genetics project manager Caris Jones at last week's Lamb-Tech seminar at Borden.

Graham Moir (left), Borden, producer speaker Graham Milton, Lake Grace and MLA genetics project manager Caris Jones at last week's Lamb-Tech seminar at Borden.

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"In five years' time I'll be running sheep differently to what I do today and I'll be making all decisions based on evidence."

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LAKE Grace farmers Graham and Amanda Milton first put electronic identification (EID) tags in their sheep in 2012 and since then they have not stopped asking questions of their sheep flock and management system.

They have used the information to help lift productivity but they are continually finding non genetic-related variables that have an equally, if not bigger effect, on productivity.

Speaking from a producer perspective at last week's Lamb-Tech seminar in Borden, Mr Milton said in the past nine years only four farmers had asked him about EID but in cropping auto-steer technology had almost a 100 percent adoption.

"I don't think I will ever see 100pc adoption of EID - I don't think I will even see 25pc," Mr Milton said.

He had little assistance in setting up his system and even stopped engaging at field days because company representatives usually didn't know their product and their demonstrations were set up poorly or didn't work.

Mr Milton believed things would change in the future with young, enthusiastic people like Kelly Gorter who could make a difference.

Mr Milton said he went into EID thinking he knew a lot about running sheep, but now he thinks he still has a lot to learn.

"In five years' time I'll be running sheep differently to what I do today and I'll be making all decisions based on evidence."

The couple runs a 4000-hectare property that includes a big area of salt lake grazing.

When they introduced a crossbred lamb component to their enterprise, they decided to use EID to track the lambs that were finished in the feedlot.

They purchased reusable Allflex tags and a Gallagher TSI monitor in August 2011, later followed by a Gallagher auto-drafter.

These days they no longer lotfed their lambs because most go in the first draft and Mr Milton said he could not be sure if it was a result of responding to what they were monitoring because they had no control group with which to compare.

However, he was able to compare the past five years of flock performance with the previous five years before they started using EID, finding the flock average was down from 20.53 to 19.65 microns; wool cut was down 0.71kg; wool cut per hectare was down 11.29pc, but weaning percentage was up by 17pc; and weaned lambs/ha was up 25pc.

After they started recording they continued to class their Merino maidens looking at teeth, wool, average daily weight gain and which ewes produced twins, with the top sheep going into the Merino flock, the next going into a crossbred producing flock and the rest sold.

At scanning they took out any dry maidens and sold them.

The information they gathered reinforced the need to get maidens to a certain weight to maximise weaning percentage and they have focussed harder on achieving their weaning percentage goal.

Mr Milton also found some sheep weighed two weeks after shearing could put on a lot of weight after being shorn.

"I think this year we may shear a percentage of maidens twice in the year before mating to see if it makes a difference to productivity versus shearing only once," he said.

"With the use of EID we can get real evidence to back up what we think is happening."

Last year they foetal aged at scanning and separated early, with late lambers recording good results with less deaths and better mothering.

"The later lambers act like a dry ewe and are disruptive," Mr Milton said.

"I have only done it for one year but I highly recommend it - if you don't do this you will not achieve the full benefits of scanning."

The couple also record weaning percentage per paddock finding some interesting and sometimes difficult-to-explain results.

"There are paddocks on the farm that are no good for lambing - they can't achieve 80pc with singles," Mr Milton said.

"This may be to do with exposure to weather events, closeness of a dam to the road, sheds, driveway or railway line."

Mr Milton has identified them and will only crop or run dry sheep on them or put early lambers in them after they have lambed.

He also has one paddock that is so good for twins it is no longer cropped and attributes it to the shelter and isolation the ewes can find.

One year the 300 ewes in that paddock produced 480 lambs.

Mr Milton doesn't believe they are losing lambs to predators, saying they have a regular baiting program with a large number of baits taken and they also run alpacas at lambing.

He is also concerned they can lose lambs with the first frost of the year.

"We can get a big daily lamb loss and I'd like to solve this because it is having an impact on our weaning percentage."

Mr Milton questions whether it is colostrum causing anaphylactic shock in lambs with hypothermia.

He also has questions about the benefits of summer rain and the access it gives sheep to summer weeds.

In 2016 they weaned 1445 Merino lambs from 1133 Merino ewes mated (128pc) and have found every year with summer weeds lambing performance improves.

"We know weeds are good at accessing nitrogen out of the soil but we need to know what's in those weeds so we can replicate that in years of no summer rain - it would be a good project for Australian Wool Innovation."

Mr Milton is also concerned that research says high daytime temperature are reducing survival of embryos that are up to nine days old.

This year they hope to have countered that problem by leaving the rams in longer than the normal 45-day mating period, but he also thinks rain that sprouted a germination also may have played a role in stimulating ovulation that may have failed after two 42-degree days in early February.

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