Should you

NZ Lifestyle Block - - FEATURE - Source:

If things are dry or you’re in full drought mode, there are some im­por­tant de­ci­sions to make now re­gard­ing whether you want to put your sheep through the mat­ing process.

Are an­i­mals in good con­di­tion?

An­i­mals in light con­di­tion or those that are los­ing weight in the three weeks be­fore mat­ing will have poorer ovu­la­tion rates and are less likely to get preg­nant than ewes which are gain­ing weight over the same time pe­riod.

Worse, low con­di­tion ewes (con­di­tion score 2.5 or less, or light store con­di­tion) will tend not to have a sec­ond cy­cle be­cause they are not ovu­lat­ing.

Un­der favourable con­di­tions, it is usual for ewes to lose up to 10% of their mat­ing weight be­fore lamb­ing, so an an­i­mal with a con­di­tion score of 2.5 or less should not be mated un­less you are go­ing to feed above-main­te­nance over win­ter, or she’s likely to lose her lamb, and pos­si­bly not sur­vive her­self.

The pros and cons of wait­ing

Un­der drought con­di­tions, the date the ram goes out has a crit­i­cal in­flu­ence on the prof­itabil­ity of next sea­son’s lamb crop. The con­flict is be­tween mat­ing be­fore ewe live weights de­cline or gam­bling by wait­ing for ex­pected rain to lift ewe con­di­tion.

If you de­lay mat­ing by 3-4 weeks (eg, put the ram out on April 10 in­stead of March 15), there are pros and cons:

Ad­van­tages

• Ewe live weight may be in­creas­ing due to higher feed qual­ity; • Nat­u­rally higher ovu­la­tion rates (>10%) = more ewes in lamb; • Bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to set up win­ter ro­ta­tion; • Eas­ier to iden­tify those ewes that are un­likely to sur­vive the win­ter and should be sold; • Less chance of rye­grass stag­gers, zear­alone (a my­co­toxin in pas­ture), fa­cial eczema.

Dis­ad­van­tages

• Ewe liveweight may be much lower, mean­ing lower ovu­la­tion rates and more dry ewes; • Later lamb­ing and wean­ing; • Longer main­te­nance feed­ing re­quired; • Pos­si­bly lamb­ing into rougher weather; • Shorter time be­fore the on­set of the sum­mer dry, mean­ing ear­lier wean­ing, less de­sir­able feed/weather; • Po­ten­tially more dys­to­cia and bear­ings if pre-lamb feed­ing is not well man­aged.

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