It may seem odd that the best way for newborns to survive is for their mothers to eat their way out of house and home, but for Australia’s sheep this may help boost their flock beyond 100 million.
A revolutionary grazing technique trialled by scientists at the Institute of Agriculture, University of Western Australia (UWA), could help Australia’s sheep flock meet the growing demand for prime lamb by increasing the 381,839 tonnes (05/06) it annually produces.
In WA alone, lamb processors want to double the number of lambs they slaughter, from 800,000 to 1.5 million to meet market demands.
UWA School of Animal Biology Research Officer, Beth Paganoni said that the most ethical way to increase the flock is to graze lambing ewes in an ‘edible shelter’.
“The loss of newborn lambs is a major problem for the Australian sheep industry and by increasing the survival rate of twins we can boost numbers,” she said.
“However, it would be unethical to promote multiple births if management systems can’t maximise lamb survival and development.
“One way to do this is to put ewes in a standing crop, which effectively becomes an edible shelter when they lamb.”
Ms Paganoni adds that lamb survival will improve if the behavioural interactions between mother and newborn can be enhanced.
“It’s essential that the ewe/lamb bond be promoted and the best way to do this is to provide shelter, feed and water near the birth site, so ewes stay with their lambs and exhibit their natural and preferred mothering behaviour,” she said.
“For best results we recommend growers use a standing shelter, such as oats, as eating oats can help increase a ewe’s colostrum volume and decrease its viscosity – two important factors for the survival of newborn lambs, especially twins.”
Colostrum, the first milk produced during late pregnancy and for a few days after birth, provides lambs with essential nutrients and infection fighting antibodies.
“Predators also inhibit expansion of Australia’s sheep flock and it’s therefore recommended that before lambing, any carcases are removed from paddocks and fox baits are placed around its perimeter.”
Ms Paganoni said the key to increasing lamb survival and boosting Australia’s sheep industry is to adopt a whole systems approach to flock management.
“Lambing conditions, predator control, shelter and genetics all play pivotal roles.”
Ms Beth Paganoni, Telephone (+61 8) 6488 1511
Professor Graeme Martin, Telephone (+61 8) 6488 2518
Professor Kadambot Siddique, Telephone (+61 8) 6488 7012, Mobile 0411 155 396