Identifying wet and dry ewes offers significant opportunities to improve lamb weaning rates

Identifying ewes with wet and dry udders may now be a skill from the past, yet the use of this low-cost, old school tool at marking and weaning could see the national flock swell, according to the Department of Primary Industries (DPI). 

Cowra-based DPI livestock researcher, Gordon Refshauge, said the two top tools to lift lamb survival were identifying wet and dry ewes and ultrasound pregnancy scanning. 

"The best way to select competent ewes capable of rearing lambs is to identify ewes with wet udders from those with dry udders at marking or weaning," Mr Refshauge said. 

"It's a simple tool which can easily be integrated into the operation at practically no-cost.

 "Dry ewes with no udder tissue and ewes which have lambed and lost their progeny, with small amounts of tissue should be identified as they have demonstrated that they are not competent mothers." 

Figures from the Cowra Agricultural Research and Advisory Station show that identifying wet and dry ewes offers significant opportunities to improve short-term and long-term lamb weaning rates. 

Mr Refshauge said that 60 percent of lambs which died were born to 27 per cent of ewes and that weaning rates could be immediately improved by removing ewes which lose lambs. 

"Selecting the most fertile and competent mothers over ewes who lose lambs also delivers long-term genetic gains for the flock, with higher lamb survival rates into the future," he said. 

"Scanning is important as it allows producers to adjust management to suit the ewe's nutritional needs to support twins and singles and deliver healthy lambs. 

"Once those lambs are on the ground, the ewe has to rear them and it's up to producers to ensure the right ewes have been selected for the task. 

"By using these two tools to select ewes, producers can expect to see a significant impact on weaning rates due to their selection of the most fertile and competent mothers. 

"They will also be increasing the number of young animals available for selection every year." 

Mr Refshauge recommends that Merino ewes be given two chances and if they are found to be dry for a second time in their life, they should be removed from the flock. 

"The only exceptions are udder breakdown and ewes requiring assistance to lamb - these ewes should be let go without a second opportunity. 

"In crossbred flocks emphasis on reproduction needs to be higher and dry ewes should be removed after one failure."

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