Optimising lamb pre-weaning growth rates on hill country

// Rearing and Weaning

Actively managing ewes and lambs to make the best use of annual legumes is a strategy that works well for North Canterbury hill country farmers James and Tom Maxwell.


Speaking on a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Knowledge Hub video ‘Optimising lamb growth before weaning’, the pair say that as soon as their ewes have finished lambing, they will box two of three mobs together and start rotating mobs of roughly 200 ewes and lambs around six or seven paddocks. 

The ewes and lambs are shifted every day or second day to ensure they are getting the pick of the pasture. This means the ewes and lambs are constantly moving onto high quality feed which drives lactation and pre-weaning lamb growth rates. 

They admit that it is a lot of work, as mobs can be moved up to 25 times before weaning, but they believe it is well worth the effort. 

Not only are they achieving good weaning weights, their ewe lambs are well grown going into summer and it is not such a big push to get them up to mating weights the following autumn. 

The brothers rely on the subterranean and annual clovers that are endemic in their pastures to provide high quality feed in spring and these clovers are actively managed to ensure they proliferate.  This means the pastures are spelled after autumn rain to allow sub and annual clover seedlings to establish. 

Speaking on the video, North Canterbury based farm consultant Jansen Travis says late lactation is when many sheep farmers fall down. While there is usually sufficient quantity of quality pasture before tailing, quality can drop off quickly in late spring. 

Legumes will retain their quality and help maintain high lamb growth rates through until weaning. 

North Canterbury farmer Henry Pinckney explains how, after establishing 150ha of red clover into his unimproved hill country, weaning weights lifted from 27kg to 33-34kg, with 60 percent of his lamb crop sold prime at weaning. 

Depending on the season, the balance is either sold store or finished, but Henry says his priority after weaning is his replacement stock.  

Watch this short video: Optimising lamb growth before weaning.