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Commercial success with White Suffolk Sires

Courtesy of MLA

Philip and Maz Gough have been producing lambs at ‘Hotspur’, in south-west Victoria, since 1995.  The Goughs run about 5,400 self-replacing ewes, bred via a Corriedale and Coopworth crossbreeding program designed to maximise hybrid vigour.  About 50% of the ewes are joined to self-replacing rams and 50% to White Suffolk terminal sires.  “Last year’s lambing finally hit 150% lambs marked to ewes joined, and 2015 and 2016 exceeded 400kg live weight of lamb/ha,”

Planning means more lambs

09 November 2017
 
Philip and Maz Gough have been producing lambs at ‘Hotspur’, in south-west Victoria, since 1995.  The Goughs run about 5,400 self-replacing ewes, bred via a Corriedale and Coopworth crossbreeding program designed to maximise hybrid vigour.  About 50% of the ewes are joined to self-replacing rams and 50% to White Suffolk terminal sires.
 
This year, they are also running 1,750 ewe weaners, of which 500 have been joined at 12 months old with a 157% scanning rate.  “Lambs are weighed and sold directly to Coles,” Philip told conference attendees at MLA-sponsored LambEx 2016.  “This gives us clear feedback, forces us to focus on a target, and we get paid for what we produce.”
 

Setting goals…and kicking them

In 2003, after experimenting with different breeds and breeding programs, the Goughs defined their breeding goal: produce a ewe that can wean 150% lambs/year to suit the supermarket trade (fat score 3 and 18–24kg carcase weight) at 130 days of age.

To do this they needed to:

  • lift lambing percentage
  • maintain hybrid vigour
  • lift lamb produced per hectare from under 300kg to over 400kg
  • improve adult wool cuts to above 5kg (they had fallen to about 4kg)
  • make as much money from as few animals as possible, for labour efficiency
  • produce efficient, environmentally fit animals
  • allow the enterprise to trade cattle when possible.

“Last year’s lambing finally hit 150% lambs marked to ewes joined, and 2015 and 2016 exceeded 400kg live weight of lamb/ha,” Philip said.  “We’re averaging 5.1kg of wool/head and the lambs are successfully hitting target weights.
“Our breeding program is maintaining about 72% heterosis (hybrid vigour) in our maternal flock and 100% in the terminal cross.”

Strategies for maximising production

Philip is the first to admit achieving these goals has not been plain sailing, but he now has a clear set of strategies to guide his breeding program.

These include:

  • use LAMBPLAN to select high-performance rams, targeting high fertility in the maternal flock (number of lambs weaned ASBV) and carcase and growth traits in terminal sires
  • select sires on their breed purity, for hybrid vigour maximisation
  • only breed self-replacers from ewes that were conceived as multiples and produce multiples every year
  • sell dry ewes
  • move single-bearing ewes to the terminal flock
  • tag and cull ewes needing assisted delivery.

Strategies for lifting lamb survival

When it comes to lifting weaning percentages, Philip advocates focusing on the physical things you can control.  “Overcoming our lamb survival challenges starts with having ewes in good condition at joining, and then preferentially managing multiples after scanning,” he said.  Philip’s key lamb survival tips are:

  • Aim to have ewes at condition score 3 at joining.
  • Scan ewes to identify multiples and separate into single and multiple-bearing mobs (this year scanned 192%).
  • Give preferential treatment to multiple-bearing ewes.
  • Maintain or increase condition on multiples through the last trimester to increase birth weights and produce stronger lambs.
  • Maintain small mob sizes (this year, average mob size is 100).
  • Reduce stocking density (due to their lamb-finishing program involving summer brassica crops on about 25% of the property, lambs can spread out until this program begins at mid-to-late lambing).
  • Provide adequate shelter at lambing.
  • Control disease (such as campylobacter).

 

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