Ewe management in focus

Ewe management in focus

WoTL’s ‘Ewe management for optimal performance’ workshop held in Pinnaroo in early March 2024 covered all aspects of ewe nutrition throughout the production cycle. Presented by Deb Scammell, of Talking Livestock, and organised by WoTL Ambassador, Danielle Nickolls, the event offered women from the mallee region an opportunity to come together to connect.

Workshop summary

The dry matter content of feed is the proportion of the feed that contains the valuable nutrients that ewes require for production. This is the portion of feed that is left after feed is dried out. The other portion of the feed is the moisture content which is just water. The dry matter content of hay and grain is often around 90% whereas by-products, or feeds such as silage, will be much lower in dry matter content, often around 20 – 40% dry matter and the rest is water. When we compare the value of particular feeds, we compare them on a dry-matter basis.

When we look at nutrient requirements of a ewe throughout the reproductive cycle (i.e from a dry ewe pre-joining throughout pregnancy, lambing and lactation) we primarily concentrate on energy. Energy is measured in MJ/Kg DM, depending on the mature weight (standard reference weight) of a ewe the maintenance energy requirement will differ. The energy requirement of a ewe increases into lambing with the requirements of a twin bearing ewe being 15% higher than a single bearing ewe. The ewe energy requirement peaks around a month after lambing which is peak lactation.

Protein is important whenever a ewe is growing out a foetus (during late gestation), during lactation (which will create higher quality milk for the growing foetus) and a growing young animal also requires extra protein. During early pregnancy, a ewe only requires about 8% total ration protein. This increases to 12 – 14% in late pregnancy and 14% during peak lactation.

Deb Scamell, Talking Livestock, presenting at WoTL's Ewe Management workshop in Pinnaroo

The condition score of the ewe determines what the reproductive reserves of the ewe are. When going into lambing for merino’s general condition score (CS) targets are CS 3 for a single and CS 3.3 for a twin bearing ewe. Lifetime wool research has shown merino ewes in better condition at lambing have heavier lambs. Lambs which are higher birthweight at lambing are likely to have higher survival rates, this is even more critical for twin-born lambs which are always lower birthweights with the ewes’ energy divided between two foetuses. Ewes that are in heavier condition scores at the point of lambing also have reduced ewe mortality. Ensuring ewes hit condition score targets enables a more productive sheep business with higher marking percentages and lower ewe mortality. If there is a large tail in a mob of ewes, especially when supplementary feeding or containment feeding ewes it can be worth drafting off the ‘skinnies’ and feeding them to allow them to gain condition prior to lambing.

Along with energy and protein, ewes also often require macro minerals, microminerals and vitamins to balance out the nutrients provided by paddock feed or supplementary feed into lambing. Calcium is critical when grain is being fed to allow ewes to develop the bone structure of the foetus and provide high quality milk and avoid issues such as hypocalcaemia (Calcium deficiency which can cause ewes to go down prior to lambing or during lactation). Magnesium can also assist muscle function into lambing.

 

Deb Scammell presenting at WoTL's ewe management workshop in Pinnaroo

As paddock feed grows over a season it starts as highly digestible feed with very high energy values, however it is often very low dry matter and high moisture content also at this early growth stage. As feed starts to mature the digestibility starts to decrease, by late summer and autumn often dry standing feed or stubbles are only around 40% digestibility and 5 – 6 MJ/kg DM. These pastures often supply less energy than that required for maintenance for even a dry ewe, so when we look at pregnant or lactating ewes during this time we need to consider the most economical way to supplementary feed to fill this gap.

There are many industry courses and workshops available which can assist to upskill producers in effectively managing ewes in a sheep enterprise. For more information you can contact Deb Scammell E. deb@talkinglivestock.com.au W: www.talkinglivestock.com.au

Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board

This project was supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from the landscape levies and the South Australian Government.

Highway women come together for first WoTL event

Highway women come together for first WoTL event

In early November 2023, women from townships along South Australia’s Mallee Highway came together for WoTL’s first event in the region. Organised by WoTL Ambassador and Stepping into Leadership alumnus, Fiona Woolfitt, participants from the localities of Geranium, Jabuk, Peake, Sherlock and Moorlands took some time out to learn and connect through participation in a morning crop walk.

Guided by independent agricultural consultant Jeff Braun, the group carpooled around the region viewing crops in the area. Many farms visited were those of participants.

Discussion topics included the suitability of different varieties more commonly sown in the area, different management techniques used and the challenges and successes of the current season.

“Jeff’s extensive knowledge of the Mallee, including land management practices, was incredibly insightful,” said Fiona.

Of particular interest was past land management practices and how this has resulted in Mallee Seeps, areas found in the low swales of sand dunes where the water table is coming to the soil surface, and what measures are being taken to help minimise the risk.

 

Fiona Woolfitt WoTL Ambassador

 

 

Participants also looked at the complexity of the cropping cycle and the planning involved.

“The planning process is much more complex than it first appears and considers many factors including the crops sown in the past, present and future, fertiliser and sprays applied. All these factors impact the crops that can be sown in the coming years,’ explained Fiona.

“It was very clear how valuable it is to engage an agronomist!”

The event armed participants with valuable knowledge to support them in providing input to assist with decision making in their own farming businesses.

As an introductory WoTL event, Kim Blenkiron, WoTL Executive Officer provided a brief overview of how the organisation works to support and assist women connected through agriculture.

WoTL thanks the property owners for access to their farms to be able to run this event.

Interested in becoming a WoTL Ambassador in your region? Get in contact with us and let’s have a chat. 

Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board

This project was supported by the Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board through funding from the landscape levies and the South Australian Government.