Tweaking for twins

SHEEP producers looking to increase lambing percentages should consider scanning their ewes for multiples to ensure adequate nutrition in pregnancy and after birth .

Department of Primary Industries sheep livestock officer Jim Meckiff, Armidale, said by identifying which ewes were carrying twins, producers could tailor a feeding program to fit.

“Wet/dry scanning doesn’t give you the information you need to get more lambs to survive,” he said.

Mr Meckiff said the needs of single and twin-bearing ewes were very different.

He advised twin-bearing ewes needed to graze on paddocks with 1500 kilograms of green dry matter per hectare (DM/ha) while single-bearing ewes could suffice with 1000kg DM/ha.

“Once you’ve scanned, you need to assess your pastures – you may or may not have enough pasture to carry your twinners,” he said.

“You’ve then got to make the call about whether you’ll have to supplementary feed.”

Cottonseed meal, lucerne, cereal grains and lupins could all be used as supplementary feed, he said.

Mr Meckiff said ideally, twin-bearing ewes would have fat scores of 3.

Knowing which ewes were carrying multiples could also help prevent deaths caused by pregnancy toxaemia.

The disease, which primarily affects twin-bearing ewes, can kill affected animals within a week.

“It’s a very nasty disease that can knock your ewes and lambs around pretty badly,” Mr Meckiff said.

He said ewes with twins in need of shearing should be seen to quickly, reducing their susceptibility to the disease.

“If you’ve got your pregnant sheep locked up without feed for a few days and compound that with wet weather, you’ll lose some to pregnancy toxaemia,” he said.

“But if you’ve identified your twinners, you can have them shorn and back on the pasture by lunchtime.”

Ensuring adequate nutrition during gestation meant twin lambs could have higher birthweights, increasing chances of survival.

Producers should aim for minimum birthweights of 3.7kg for twin-born lambs and four to 4.5kg for singles.

“It’s important the lamb has sufficient body weight and fat reserves to get up, get mobile, have a drink and let mum know it’s interested, otherwise she’ll forget about her lamb,” Mr Meckiff said.

Lambs with low birthweights are the most likely to succumb to the cold.

It was also important not to disturb the mob during lambing.

“It takes about six hours for ewes and their lambs to bond, so if you drive your ute into the paddock beeping the horn, you’ve lost a lamb,” he said.

For this reason, it was important to avoid feeding while ewes were lambing.

Mr Meckiff said the extra cost in scanning for multiples would be recouped many times over during the lifetime of a lamb that would otherwise not survive.

The Department of Primary Industries is conducting a study into the scanning habits of NSW sheep farmers.

To take part in the study, complete the survey online here

- The Land

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