Experts from a range of organisations including Sheep Connect have been hosting webinars to answer some of the many questions flooding in from graziers struggling to feed stock during the drought.
At the most recent webinar titled Livestock management during drought, Geoff Duddy from Sheep Solutions spoke about managing lambing ewes and what they need to meet their energy requirements, while Local Land Services officer Brett Littler focused on cattle.
About eight weeks is when lambs are starting to actually receive appreciably more from the pasture than they are from milk.Geoff Duddy
Mr Duddy recommended early weaning of lambs at 12 weeks of age, which can reduce the overall DSE (dry stock equivalent) of the mob by 35 per cent.
“It also means the best quality feed goes to the young stock as they are not competing with the ewes,” he said.
“The optimum age for weaning is about 12 weeks and around 15kg to 18kg, but with careful management lambs can be weaned at eight weeks and a minimum of 10kg.
“Around about eight weeks is when lambs are starting to actually receive appreciably more from the pasture than they are from milk,” Mr Duddy said.
Ewes’ milk production generally peaks when the lambs are around three to four weeks old, while for calves it was seven to 10 weeks.
Mr Duddy said lamb survival improved dramatically when they were getting enough energy to be in “forward condition” or gaining at least 50g a day.
Mr Littler said it was a similar situation for calves with an ideal early weaning age for cattle of three months and weights of around 90kg.
“Just feeding weaned calves for maintenance is not an option,” Mr Littler said.
For growth, weaned sheep required about 10 megajoules per kilogram of energy and a diet of 12 per cent crude protein, Mr Duddy said.
However, he recommended increasing that by four units of protein for lambs under 25kg.
“Lambs and calves are building bodies and putting protein into their system,” he said.
Imprinting – teaching young stock to recognise feed and troughs – was important to get them eating, Mr Duddy said.
Other techniques discussed to reduce stress on stock at weaning were:
- Putting weaners back into the paddock they came from;
- Split the weaning taking heavier animals first and the lighter ones 2-3 weeks later;
- Cross weaning – putting weaners with other adults that aren’t their dams; or
- Running a portion of adults with the weaners.
“When yard weaning, the younger they are the smaller the mob size needs to be,” Mr Littler said.
“You need to be picking up shy feeders and animals that have issues and could be pushed of feed.
“Put like with like – there’s no point putting a 90kg calf up against a 150kg calf.”
There were a lot of questions about creep gates and how to set them up successfully – either for a ration or to allow lambs and calves onto a crop.
Mr Duddy recommended posts about 8 to 10 inches apart and a horizontal bar about 18 inches off the ground to stop mature sheep from getting through.
Mr Littler said for calves, creep gates should be roughly 40-45cm apart.
Mr Duddy and Mr Littler also spoke about the importance of nutrition and maintaining the balance between calcium, magnesium and phosphorous.
“When it comes to protein the best options are pulses and meals,” Mr Duddy said.
“Be mindful of higher starch levels in grain.
“We generally recommend one and a half to two calcium units to every one of phosphorus and for a range of feeds [grains, pulses, meals] every single one is out of whack.
“That’s why we recommend including something like ground limestone as a supplement or Acid Buf, a seaweed extract rich in calcium and magnesium in rations.”