CSU Blog Series

2019 has seen FFN partner with Charles Sturt University to provide FFN members with access to a series of the University’s studies directly relevant to young farmers. This third study looks at Increasing Lamb Survival to Boost Production. Please contact CSU or FFN should you wish to find out more.

Increasing lamb survival to boost production
Lamb prices are currently soaring – just imagine if you had 20 percent more of them in the paddock at marking time.

One-in-five lambs born in Australia die within days of birth, costing the industry over $1 billion each year, so improving the marking rate can make a big difference to the productivity and profitability of a sheep and wool enterprise.

It’s a key area of research at the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation, an alliance between Charles Sturt University and the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

Calcium and magnesium supplements – a low-cost risk management strategy

 Graham Centre research, funded by Australian Wool Innovation, has shown the value of supplementing calcium and magnesium to pregnant ewes, even when they appear healthy.

Clinical calcium deficiency (hypocalcaemia or milk fever) and clinical magnesium deficiency (hypomagnesaemia or grass tetany) can result in ewe death and may increase lambing difficulty and complications from birth.

This new research, led by Charles Sturt University Professor Michael Friend examined whether ewes with sub-clinical deficiencies in calcium and magnesium – those that are not visible – are also more likely to lose lambs.

Testing on commercial farms found that even if the pastures showed no deficiencies in calcium and magnesium, the ewes grazing those pastures often had subclinical deficiencies.

Part of the project involved PhD research by Forough Ataollahi, who carried out a small-scale trial comparing pregnant ewes whose diets were supplemented with calcium and magnesium, to pregnant ewes with no supplementation.

Her research found calcium and magnesium supplementation put pregnant ewes into a better metabolic state, improved the immune response in twin newborn lambs and increased their weights at four weeks of age.

Small increases in lamb weaning weight can make a profound difference to weaner survival. Early weaning can be an effective strategy to increase productivity and also to ensure that ewes have more time to recover body condition.

Key points

  • Many late pregnant ewes appear to be sub-clinically deficient in calcium and magnesium, despite grazing pastures which should provide sufficient amounts of these minerals
  • Calcium and magnesium supplementation form birth to lamb marking resulted in increased lamb marking weights, and supplementation to weaning increased lamb liveweight gain.
  • While supplementation may not improve lamb survival in all flocks, a loose lick supplying calcium, magnesium and sodium can be a cost effective method to increase growth rates of young lambs and reduce mortality risk

For more information and recommendations check out the Australian Wool Innovation Fact Sheet here
Michael Friend: mfriend@csu.edu.au
Forough Ataollahi:  Forough.ataollahi@dpi.nsw.gov.au

Livestock forum to showcase research

The research into the impact of calcium and magnesium supplements on lamb performance will be presented at the Graham Centre Livestock Forum on Friday 26 of July at the Convention Centre at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga.

The Forum will also showcase research including increasing lamb growth rates on pasture, research into the use of caffeine to increase lamb survival, the effects of grain processing on the performance of weaner lambs in feedlots and breeding for quality lamb meat from Merinos. Download the program here

Registration is $25 per person and includes morning tea and lunch. Register here https://www.trybooking.com/BCYKK

If you can’t make it in person follow the action with the Graham Centre on Facebook @GrahamCentreForAgriculturalInnovation and Twitter @GrahamCentre