Impact of nutrition on lifetime performance
Optimising nutrition is the key to unlocking the genetic potential of your sheep flock. From the moment of conception, nutrition is having an impact on your sheep's performance:
- Ewe condition and resilience
- Scanning rates
- Lamb survival
- Growth rates
- Wool production
- Resistance to parasites and disease
With the right balance of forage for your production system, and some simple management tools, you can maximise the lifetime performance of your entire flock.
Here are some excellent resources to help you optimise sheep nutrition:
- Body condition scoring - see the video and guide below on condition scoring ewes with Dr Mark Ferguson, and check out the resources on the Beef + Lamb New Zealand website including their Ewe body condition scoring handbook.
- One-on-one advice - contact the Production Science team at NZM to discuss how best to achieve your production targets through optimal management of your sheep's nutrition, including implementing a condition scoring programme in your ewes.
- Ewe nutrition and lamb survival - check out this fact sheet on looking after ewe nutrition during late pregnancy - particularly that of twin-bearing ewes in lighter condition - to boost lamb survival.
- Bred Well Fed Well - a one day workshop that is specifically designed to help you get more out of the genetic potential in your flock through targeted nutrition - improving the performance of each ewe, as well as her progeny.
- Beef + Lamb New Zealand - the B+LNZ website (and their weekly e-diary newsletters) are a wealth of information, with links to fact sheets, videos and podcasts. Check out the podcast below with San Jolly speaking about the importance of feed quality.
- StockCare - by taking a disciplined approach to measuring and recording, and managing stock based on that information, many sheep businesses across New Zealand credit Stockcare with giving them the tools to set, achieve and exceed their goals.
Body condition scoring
Hands-on body condition scoring (BCS) is a simple tool to assess the condition of your sheep. Monitoring the body condition of your ewe flock at key times throughout the breeding cycle – weaning, mating, scanning, set stocking and tailing – is a quick and effective way to ensure that the right ewes are getting the additional feed that they need.
The best way to hone this skill is hands-on practice in the yards, so please contact the NZM production science team if you would like to learn more about condition scoring and the positive impact it can have on your ewe flock's overall productivity.
Step-by-step guide to condition scoring ewes
1. Condition scoring ewes involves assessing the loin area for both muscle and fat.
2. Roll your fingers down from the top of the spine, down through the loin area, then down to the short rib.
3. A condition score of three feels full between the tip of the spine and the end of the short rib – it is a flat line (with no curving down).
4. A condition score of between two and three means that you can feel the end of the short rib. It is still rounded and has muscle tissue around it, but you can feel the end of the short rib protruding.
5. For a condition score of two, you can get your fingers between the short ribs.
6. The optimum condition score for a ewe is around three. A single-bearing ewe can be just below three, while a twin-bearing ewe should be just above three.
In this video, Dr. Mark Ferguson shows condition scoring in practice.
Click here for our fact sheet on managing ewe body condition.
"Often the years that you make the most money out of good decisions around condition scoring are those tight years - working out who the higher priority ewes are and how to treat them best." Dr. Mark Ferguson, NZM Production Science Manager.
Ewe nutrition and lamb survival
Between scanning and lambing is the key time for making sure that as many lambs as possible survive the critical 48 hour period following birth, and are ready to grow and thrive. Click here (or on the image below) for more details about making the most of the potential we have created.
Bred Well Fed Well
Bred Well Fed Well introduces a hands-on approach to monitoring ewe condition to help with decision-making about feed allocation and focus on developing an appropriate feed budget to meet those needs.
Key activities in the workshop include:
- Understanding the impact of having ewes in the right condition score, and making decisions about the energy needs of ewes, rather than the calendar
- Developing an energy budget based on ewe requirements
- Developing a tailored breeding objective for your enterprise
- Understanding EBVs and balancing their use with good stockmanship
Feedback from grower participants has been hugely positive, with workshop polling showing that 90% of participants rated the day as an 8 out of 10 or greater and over 95% of participants said they would recommend that other producers attend the workshop.
Chris Ensor, farmer and specialist finisher, said "Gone are the days of meat companies being vacuum cleaners. In order to extract top dollar for their product, farmers now need to meet contract specification to ensure future sustainability of markets. An opportunity like Bred Well Fed Well is an example of how NZM is communicating this message to farmers. This is positive for the industry."
Contact NZM if you would like to take part in a Bred Well Fed Well workshop.
Quality over quantity
In a talk that covers a wide range of nutrition questions from New Zealand farmers, San Jolly from Productive Nutrition in South Australia encourages growers to look beyond the amount of feed produced and look more closely at quality to lift production.