More lamb per hectare in Strathview triplet bearing trial

Tim and Bek Lubke, Strathview Maternal Genetics, have four years of data on lamb survival in triplet bearing ewes.

A focus on early puberty, multiple bearing ewes and lamb survival has resulted in Strathview maternal composite ewes weaning 100kg of lamb in 100 days.

Strathview Maternal Genetics border the Henty field days site and is operated by Tim and Bek Lubke.

The couple is participating in a Meat and Livestock Australia trial evaluating best management practices for multiple bearing ewes and lamb survival.

The results of four years of data collection on triplet bearing ewes will be available at Strathview’s site at the field days, along with young composite rams and their progeny.

Mr Lubke said high lamb prices had fuelled strong interest in composite genetics among producers at last year’s field days.

He said much of the growth had come from Merino producers wanting composite rams to join to classed-out ewes.

Tim and Bek run a July-August lambing flock of 300 stud ewes, 200 stud ewe lambs, and 2500 commercial composite ewes.

“In our commercial flock, Coopworth is the base and we are predominantly using White Suffolk and Poll Dorset rams selected on maternal traits,” Mr Lubke said.

“We also have grazing wheat and canola, plus oats and lupins across three properties totalling 971ha.”

During the trial on triplet bearing ewes, the Lubkes found slightly lowering the condition score before ewes give birth while supplementary feeding, and increasing birthweights, had helped in higher survival rates in triplets.

“Some Strathview triplet bearing ewes have ability to wean over 100kg of lamb at 100 days, making them the most profitable sheep on the farm,” Mr Lubke said.

“Our focus is not to have all our sheep bear triplets, but there is ground to be made up in terms of lamb survival.

“Our separated triplet mobs are returning on average 208 per cent.

“The goal of the stud is to produce ewes that wean their lambs above their body weight at 100 days.”

Last year, 18 per cent of lambs born were triplets with the ewes recording a scanning percentage of 198 per cent and weaning of 176 per cent.

The ewes had an average body condition score of 3.8 at joining.

“Last year we sowed sudangrass on summer rain and the ewes were able to put on a lot of condition,” Mr Lubke said.

“This year we are back to condition score three and the scanning percentage was back to 176.

“We have been encouraging our clients to budget their number of lambs weaned on the condition score of the ewes at joining.”

The Strathview flock has a five-week joining from mid February at two per cent rams.

“Our aim is to have a body condition score of between 3.2 and 3.4 to ensure a scanning result in the high 180-190 per cent,” Mr Lubke said.

“The triplet bearing ewe’s condition scores are monitored for maintenance at 3-3.2 for lambing – this is slightly lower than the twin bearing ewes.

“That is to avoid casting or ewes becoming too fat.

“We traditionally lamb the twin-bearing ewes down at 11 ewes per hectare while the triplet bearing ewes are given more space.

“The best we have achieved is 216 per cent in 2015 – from year-to-year it has ranged from 200 to 216 per cent to average 208 per cent.”

Mr Lubke said assisted births in the triplet bearing ewes was higher than the twinners.

“With the composite ewes, it hasn’t been excessive,” he said.

“There is a lot more ground we can be making up to achieve better survival rates if we know how to better manage the ewes.”

Under the MLA trial this year, triplet-bearing ewes are being run under four different feed regimes prior to lambing.

“The trials are built on grain feeding triplet bearing ewes and running them on either higher or lower feed on offer paddocks,” Mr Lubke said.

“We have four different groups of 25 ewes each – one group is on low feed on-offer (700kg of dry matter per hectare) combined with 600 grams per head per day of barley and lupins.

“A second group is fed 600 grams of grain ration and a high feed on-offer (1100kg/DM/ha), while a third group is on 200 grams per head per day of grain with lower feed on-offer and the fourth is low grain/high pasture.

“Their condition scores were recorded before trial entry (three weeks before lambing).”

Aged from three to six, the ewes will be assessed again at weaning to record how many lambs survived in each group, and evaluate if their condition score had improved or not.

Strathview Maternal Genetics has selected for growth and fertility as two key drivers of profitability.

Selection has also been focused on steadily reducing ewe body weight without losing frame.

“We have been working on reducing adult body weight for improved feed efficiency without sacrificing growth, fertility and early maturity in ewe lambs,” Mr Lubke said.

“While the overall growth on average in the stud slightly dropped, along with our ewe adult weights, on average the fertility in the flock has risen.

“This year adult weights averaged 71kg down from 72kg two years ago.”

The Lubkes also genetically select for positive fat and muscle.

“Our stud ewes are well above breed average in the Australian Sheep Breeding Values for fat and muscle to allow sheep to be run under high stocking rates and maintain production in drought conditions,” Mr Lubke said.

“We have found they respond to grain a lot quicker and they are more robust sheep.

“In better years, we can run higher stocking rates and the sheep maintain their competitiveness in the paddock.”

Strathview ewe lambs are joined at a critical mating weight of 45kg and selected on early puberty.

“We have been collecting data on ewe lambs which join earlier, including joining on the first or second cycle,” Mr Lubke said.

“Information on the ewe weight when the rams went in gives us a bigger picture of the overall fecundity of the flock.”

For the past two years, grain-fed Strathview wether lambs have been sold at export weights of 30kg dressed in the light of strong export prices over the trade market.

Lambs are run on lucerne until at least 35kg liveweight and then finished on grain until eight to 10 months of age.

“Our contract rate this year started at $7.50/kg and rose to $9.50/kg in June,” Mr Lubke said.

Local client John Ellis received $349.20 for grain fed Strathview blood lambs averaging 96kg liveweight in Wagga in early July.

“The yield has been increasing since we have been using White Suffolk and Poll Dorset genetics,” Mr Lubke said.

“We would prefer a composite over the Coopworth as the composites add muscle, yield and a tighter skin while dropping adult weight.

“The Coopworth has a quieter maternal nature and stays close to her lambs – we want an animal that will have multiple births and bring them to weaning while being quiet in the yards.”

Strathview will offer 60 rams at the on-property sale on Tuesday, October 8.