Triple the success: Part 2

The Dawkins family are Beef + Lamb New Zealand Innovation Farmers who are striving to maximise triplet lamb survival by developing an indoor lambing system. Now in their third year of the programme, the family are refining a system that has unexpectedly benefited the whole farm system while significantly reducing lamb losses.
Monday, 1 July 2019

In the second part of this two-part series, we look at the costs and benefits of the indoor system.

The triplet-bearing ewes are brought into the shed for lambing. After they have lambed, they spend 24-hours in a bonding pen before being moved to a nearby paddock.

In the first year of the Innovation Farm project, the Dawkins put the ewes and lambs onto the headland of a vineyard for a few days for close monitoring. Last year they went straight into a paddock which simplified the process, although they were still checked daily.

Orphan lambs are also reared in the shed and fed cows colostrum (sourced from a dairy farm the Dawkins have an interest in), lamb pellets and muesli.

Richard says that in 2017, they found the orphan system to be very labour intensive with multiple feeds every day. Last year, the Dawkins made a gravity feeder that gave the lambs ad-lib access to milk.

This was a fraction of the price of more expensive automatic feeders and was more efficient than filling milk-train feeders multiple times a day.

The lambs were weaned onto lucerne weighing an average 18kg. The first of these lambs, which were growing at an average of 260gms/day, were sold on December 13 weighing 41kg. The balance was carried through for finishing and sold in February.

This year the Dawkins will be using a whey-based milk powder and while the initial cost is more than colostrum, they are hoping it will generate higher growth rates and will be easier to manage than the 1000L totes of colostrum.

Last year the Dawkins lost three ewes to bearings, but Chris says a highlight was not having any metabolic issues in their ewes. While this will be a challenge to replicate, ewe weights and body condition are closely monitored throughout the year. Metabolic conditions are associated with changes in body condition, weight and diet, but the family’s composite ewes transitioned indoors with ease.

Abortion has been an issue in the Dawkins ewe flock- last year they lost 8 per cent of potential lambs – despite having a full vaccination programme in place to reduce losses through disease-related abortion. This year they are monitoring the ewes closely with multiple scannings, blood tests and autopsies.

After going through the indoor system and being closely monitored for seven days, the triplet ewes and lambs were run onto a red clover and plantain pasture mix. This high-quality forage drove average lamb growth rates of 337gms/day and enabled 55 per cent of these lambs to be sold at weaning at 38.7kg.

Richard says farm-wide, they had comparatively poor lamb growth rates last year due to very wet weather conditions. However, with a further 30ha of lucerne developed for lambing this year, they are expecting better triplet growth rates and clearance at weaning.

Overall, they achieved a 163 per cent lambing from a 192 per cent scanning – this is across their two-tooths and mixed-age ewes.

“This is very rewarding, as we believe there has been too much focus on high scanning percentages in the past and the number of lambs alive at weaning should be the real target”, says Richard.

The family say the benefits of the indoor triplet system are far-reaching. It has improved twin and single lamb survival in their outdoor ewes by making more feed and shelter available for them. It also allows Chris to focus on these ewes as Richard looks after the triplets indoors.

In previous years, half a day could be spent in the triplet paddock whereas now Chris has all day to focus on the singles and twins, sometimes checking them twice.

The pair admit they have a number of factors in their favour for running an indoor system. The first is their shed which is warm, dry, sunny and well-ventilated. The Marlborough climate – being typically dry and relatively warm – also favours the system.

Economics 

  2017 2018
Supplements $19/ewe $8.45/ewe
Labour $54/ewe $25/ewe
Other $13.40/ewe $12.25/ewe
Overall $86.40/ewe $45.70/ewe
Total Costs $1,1236 $1,0610

In 2017, this system generated an extra 215 lambs (based on historic data of 24 per cent lamb losses) which at $139/lamb was worth $29,885.00.

In 2018, the Dawkins had an extra 252 extra lambs which at $148, generated $3,7296.

Less costs, this made for a profit of $18653 in 2017 and $2,6785 in 2018.

Richard says absolutely everything is included in these costings-including some capital costs, market rates of supplement and all labour valued at $20/hour.