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20% Breeding 80% Feeding

Stuart Albrey, Fine Fibre Farms,

In my first blog posting I foolishly suggested that there was more than one section to the topic of producing quality sheep and wool. The result was an expectation to produce the second section so here goes.

I should have pointed out in that first posting that anything I write here is only my personal opinion based on my experience.

We talked about genetics last time but it does not matter how good the genetics are, if you don’t look after your sheep you will compromise the ability of the ewes to produce both lambs and wool.

These issues fall into two main categories

  1. Feeding
  2. Health care

You may often hear the saying ‘20% breeding and 80% feeding ‘. It is not quite that easy but it is true that if you have two genetically equal flocks then the flock that is fed better will produce better.

Feeding is, in theory, a reasonably simple process but, when dealing with Mother Nature, can become much more complex. Our thoughts go out to our members who are currently experiencing very dry conditions which has resulted in significant feed shortages. They have been required to provide supplementary feed for a significant period of time and will have to continue to do so right through to the spring.

For those of us who have been more fortunate with good growing conditions it is a lot simpler. With New Zealand having a seasonal and temperate climate we experience times of feed surplus (spring) and feed shortage (winter). As a result we conserve feed in the spring and early summer in the form of hay and silage. This is mainly done on larger scale farms.

A significant number of our breeders only have smaller lifestyle blocks so this is often not an option. For them it is often simpler to buy in concentrate supplements such as sheep nuts or grain. While these often appear to be more expensive initially, if fed correctly are cost effective in terms of a lack of wastage. An added bonus is that the sheep really love this type of feed and it calms them down and makes them easier to handle and move.

I am going to try and keep this simple. The science can become confusing.

There are two critical times for ewes to be at their best: tupping and lambing.

At tupping time you need to look at increasing the feed to your ewes for a couple of weeks before putting the rams out. This is called flushing and results in a higher percentage of lambs being conceived.

Feeding ewes as they approach lambing is a little trickier. Did you know that the unborn lamb doubles in size in the last five weeks of pregnancy? The secret is to provide the ewe with enough feed to maintain her condition and allow the unborn lamb to continue to grow without growing too big. We all know about the difficulty of lambing large lambs.

Once the lambs are born it is really simple. Feed the ewes as much grass as is possible. More grass means more milk. More milk means faster growing lambs.

If we assume that all the ewe’s health matters have been addressed, then you have a very good chance of having a ewe that produces good wool and good lambs.

Well it appears that I have talked too much so there is no room to discuss the health care. Perhaps that is a topic for another day.

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