Nutrition & Animal Health

Lamb producers spread grain to maximise lamb and ewe survival

Terry Sim and Liz Wells June 26, 2024

Paradoo Prime ewes eating corn on dry pasture. Image – Paradoo Prime.

WESTERN Victorian sheep producers forced to lamb down ewes on rain-starved sub-optimal pastures have successfully spread grains and pulses in lambing paddocks as a substitute for the current lack of pasture.

Western Victorian lamb producer and Paradoo Prime co-principal Tim Leeming told the BestWool BestLamb conference in Ballarat last week that his operation and other producers have been feeding pregnant ewes on maize in containment areas and the grain’s availability was highlighted at late break forums in May.

He had never used maize before this year, but after the first of two well-attended forums last month about 8000 tonnes of maize was shipped into south-west Victoria in a week.

“The beauty of farmers is that they are highly inventive and prepared to have a crack at a lot of things, and of the message we had at the end of the forums is ‘let’s record what we do’.

“I know it’s a painful time and we are throwing hundred dollar bills over our shoulder are sick of feeding,” Mr Leeming said.

“One of the things that has been tried extensively is spreading a lot of corns and beans into the paddock, but doing it in a fairly measured way.

“So working out your stocking rate for what you are putting in, whether it’s twins or triplets you are putting into those paddocks.”

Spreading grain in lambing paddocks that lacked adequate feed on offer or FOO encourages ewes to remain close to their lambs and utilize the grain around them in the first days after lambing, maintaining the lamb-ewe bond that would be at risk if ewes had to search for feed away from the lamb.

“Bringing ewes to a grain line or a self-feeder you are just going to encourage that mismothering.

“The ewe can lamb down having confidence that she has got corn all around her or within 20 metres and then also when that lamb is only 1-2 days old that she is not running over to a ute or trailer that might be coming into the paddock or the lone self-feeder.”

Mr Leeming said producers are conscious of mismothering of lambs and using self-feeders where sheep would congregate and lambs would be mismothered in a ‘multiple’ mob.

“So that’s been used and I did some about 11-12 days ago, where we broadcast about 180kg/he in the twin-bearing paddocks.

“So there are things like broadcasting to get over the bump.”

He said with the used of teaser rams and more condensed lambings, shortening the lambing period allowed them to have come precision with when the big influx of lambs would hit the ground.

“So we can use tools and methods like spreading a resource into the paddock, dispersed right over the paddocks, so that they are lambing down right across the paddock and had access within the vicinity of where they are going to have their little nursery.”

Mr Leeming told Sheep Central lambing down 1100 twin and triplet ewes carrying 199 percent foetuses over 20 days in a paddock with spread grain had gone well and he was now trail-feeding the sheep. Other producers had also reported similar successes.

“I would do it again,” he said.

A further 200 single-bearing ewes were lambed down and fed using trail-feeding and random vetch hay paddocks across the paddocks.

Maize demand continuing

McKenzieAg principal Lachlan McKenzie said maize has been a critical component in ration formulations for lamb producer clients in the Western District since early Autumn.

“The prolonged dry conditions have resulted in an unprecedented demand for feed supplements that are high in metabolisable energy, and maize has been ideal in this regard.

“With 15Mj ME/Kg (DM), 90-95pc digestibility and 70pc+ starch, maize has provided the much needed energy to ewes in the lead up to and during lambing,” he said.

“The strong demand for feed that has resulted from the dry Autumn has pushed feed prices up dramatically.

“The maize price has been somewhat insulated from this though, with the massive harvest and lack of available storage keeping downward pressure on maize values.”

Mr McKenzie said as a result of the need for high energy feeds and the relatively low market price for maize, the business has sold more maize over the last three months than it would usually sell over a 12-month period.

“We have been delivering about 2000 tonnes of maize per week since mid-March, with most of this going into western Victoria and south-east South Australia.

“We had expected this to drop off as lambing gets underway in the southern regions, but this has not been the case,” he said.

“Demand is still extreme, and if anything, is increasing week-on-week.

“Thankfully we have secured large volumes of maize at competitive prices, and are well positioned to meet the demand over the coming months.”

Dry conditions are concerning

Bannockburn-based Western Ag agronomist Ashley Perkins said dry conditions are concerning for croppers and graziers.

“For this month, we’ve had 6mm so far, when 50-75mm a month is not unusual for this time of year,” Mr Perkins said.

“Pastures are basically non-existent; sheep have grazed them out.

“A lot of guys are getting down to their last bit of hay, and their stored grain is exhausted.

“Some guys are buying in pellets…and we won’t get any significant pasture growth for some time because of the cold.”

Mr Perkins said pasture paddocks, or April-sown red wheat, can normally be relied upon to provide winter feed for lambing ewes.

“This year, we’re chasing our tail in terms of feed; there’s a lot of sad faces around.”

Buying of hay and grain is accelerating as the feed deficit becomes more pronounced.

“Never do we normally buy grain for sheep at this time of year.”

Mepunga Grains director Jake Smith said graziers were chasing barley and corn to feed out in the paddock to sheep.

Lupins are trading up-country at $600/tonne-plus, compared with corn at around $380/t delivered, and wheat and barley at roughly $390/t.

“Corn is the cheapest of all, but it’s slowly on the rise,” Mr Smith said.

“People are buying whatever they can, and it’s down to corn and barley now.”

“Lupins are worth a fortune and they’re hard to source, and faba beans are heading the same way.”

While cracked corn, mashes, and whole grains for dairies are the cornerstone of the Mepunga Grains’ business, dry conditions in the Western District have prompted a surge in demand coming from sheep producers.

“We’ve had plenty of phone calls from sheep farmers who might normally buy two or three loads a year from us, and they’re up to eight or nine.”

Mr Smith said there was “nothing but dirt” in some paddocks.

Dairy farmers are volume buyers of corn at this time of year to feed to joining milkers, which means the corn market could well firm to make barley the cheaper option for graziers.

Mr Smith said the very dry year to date means some irrigators have already hit their limit on water use, and this will further impact the productivity of fodder crops under centre pivots.



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