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Farmers tackling difficult choices as lambing continues on the Central Tablelands

Drought affected sheep producers can expect extra problems for spring lambing this year, but Local Land Services Regional Veterinarian, Bruce Watt, advises there are some useful strategies farmers can adopt to help improve lamb survival rates.

While research on reducing lamb mortality has found that the early bond between ewe and lamb is crucial for lamb survival, the risk of mis-mothering of lambs increases significantly when sheep are being hand fed.

“Ideally a ewe will spend over four hours with the lamb at the birth site, grooming the lamb immediately after delivery, helping the lamb to nurse, and cementing the maternal bond,” explained Bruce.

However if the bonding process is disrupted, such as when the ewe bolts to the feed trail or heads for the self-feeder, mis-mothering can occur leaving the lamb vulnerable to starvation, exposure and predation.

While some farmers on the Central Tablelands have had sufficient rain to lamb out on saved pastures, those with bare paddocks will be forced to continue a hand feeding regime.

According to Bruce Watt, there are a number of useful strategies that will reduce the possibility of mis-mothering based on previous research including work undertaken at the Cowra Research Station.

Feeding ewes in the early afternoon will allow the most time for mothering up before nightfall, while mob size and stocking rates also have an impact on lamb mortality.

“Managing twin bearing ewes in smaller mobs, separately from single bearing ewes, can significantly improve lambing success. It might also be possible to drift ewes that are yet to lamb, away from recently lambed ewes.”

Researchers have found that ewes lambing in paddocks with short green feed will do equally well when fed a grain/lupin mix from a self-feeder, or fed every second day from troughs.

Self-feeders should be at least 50 m from water and shelter. Ideally each self-feeder should supply no more than 220 single ewes or 100 twin bearing ewes.

Trail feeding can give better control of the amount being fed. Disturbance to lambing ewes can also be reduced by feeding 2-3 times per week rather than daily.

“Some sheep producers might choose to broadcast out albus lupins or faba beans onto paddocks to supply sufficient feed for several weeks, avoiding the need to trail feed,” said Bruce.

“We’re also aware of producers who plan on using whole cotton seed dumped into the paddock, which ewes are inclined to eat slowly, rather than gorge in a single rushed feed.”

For further advice on lambing in dry conditions and supplementary feeding, contact your nearest Central Tablelands Local Land Services vet or livestock officer in Bathurst, Cowra, Lithgow, Molong, Mudgee or Orange.