Benefits of indoor lambing system far-reaching

Determined to realise the potential offered by triplet-bearing ewes, Chris, Julia and Richard Dawkins have, with the help of Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Innovation Farm programme, set-up an indoor lambing system on their Marlborough sheep and beef farm.
Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Part two of a two-part series looks at the economics of the indoor system and how it unexpectedly benefited the outdoor lambing ewes.

Hand-rearing lambs

The shed was also used to rear 61 mis-mothered lambs- 36 from the triplets and 27 from single and twin mobs.

The Dawkins sourced 4200L of cow “colostrum” milk and this was used to rear lambs. Richard says they got 3000L of the waste milk from Mt Ella, a dairy farm they have interests in at no cost-apart from diesel and time- and a further 1200L was sourced locally at a cost of $200 plus two lambs.

The orphans were hand-fed warmed cows milk for the first few days before going onto trough feeders and cold cows’ milk. From day one to 20 they were given four feeds a day, on weeks three and four they were in a grass paddock on three daily feeds and from week five they were on a lucerne stand and one daily feed of milk.

Richard says they had no animal health problems at all with the cow’s milk – warm or cold.  These lambs were also given access to Reliance starter muesli and lamb pellets from day one to prepare them for early weaning.

This combination of milk, supplement, grass and then lucerne drove pre-weaning growth rates of up to 300gms/day.

The lambs were weaned at seven weeks weighing an average 18kgLW.

The economics

One hundred and thirty triplet-bearing ewes went through the shed with a potential 390 lambs. Seventy lambs died so the total was 320 triplet lambs weaned (246 per cent). 
Richard say outdoors, the lambing in their triplet ewes has been a maximum of 200 per cent-which would have been 260 lambs – so they saved 60 lambs by putting them through the shed system.
At $100/lamb, this amounted to $6000.

The total project cost $11236.40 which includes the cost of supplements at $2471.40, capital costs and consumables amounted to $1735 and labour at – at $20/hour – totalled $7030.
Richard calculated that the system saved a total of 87 lambs at $100/lamb (60 triplet and 27 orphan twin and single lambs) and eight ewes (they only lost five ewes out of a predicted 13) so the total indoor animal savings were $9500.

Farm-wide, lamb deaths dropped from the long-term average of 24 per cent to 15 per cent. This meant 128 extra singles and twins survived. Richard says $12,800 of additional benefit is indirectly attributable to indoor triplet lambing.

The indoor system generated $22,300 across the whole farm. Minus expenses of $11236.40 this equals a $11063.60 or $8.60/ewe over the 1290 ewes

Far reaching benefits

While AbacusBio consultant Simon Glennie says the indoor system benefits the whole farm business. Bringing triplet-bearing ewes indoors frees up better pastures and shelter for twin and single-bearing ewes and allows a labour unit to focus solely on the outdoor ewes.

“The payback has come not just from higher triplet lamb and ewe survival, but also from improved survival in the remaining single and twin bearing ewes.

“While not simple to quantify, we estimate that at least one third of the improvement in lamb survival came removing triplet bearing ewes, and the disturbance they caused, from the single and twin lambing paddocks.

“Overall, lamb survival improved by 9% or 215 lambs. Sixty of these lambs were triplets, leaving 154 more surviving from singles and twins.”

Richard says 60 years of monitoring has showed that lamb wastage on their farm averaged 24 per cent.

Last year 1290 ewes scanned 185 per cent and with the help of the indoor system, lamb loss amounted to 15 per cent – or a 37.5 per cent reduction on average.

“This farm-wide improvement of lamb survival came not only from improved triplet survival, but because of additional time available for Chris to closely monitor the outdoor mobs (singles and twins) which had the best lambing platform,” says Richard.

There was also the feel-good factor associated with improving lamb survival.

Post-weaning performance

A total of 85 – or 40 per cent – of the works lambs reared in the indoor system were finished before Christmas. This year they are aiming to have 60 per cent gone by mid-December as they are increasing their lucerne area by 30-40ha.

Last year these lambs were grown out on clay country, which was not ideal in what was a very wet- then very dry season.

Refining the system

Buoyed by such a successful start, Richard says if they could just emulate the 2017 results they would be happy, but they are looking to streamline the system further.

This will be done by reducing the cost- and wastage – of supplementary feed by processing bales of lucerne into pellets and feeding them with peas and baleage. This would be cheaper than nuts.
They are investigating robotic lamb feeders and milk heaters and looking to get all the “colostrum” cows’ milk delivered in one hit. Wet mothering orphan lambs onto single-bearing ewes is another option being explored to save both labour and milk.

B+LNZ Innovation Farm Programme

Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Innovation Farm programme began in 2011 with the idea of supporting farmers who want to identify and trial tools and practices that result in real financial gains.

The projects showcase a narrow category of farming activity rather than taking a whole-farm approach.