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On-farm paddock-scale comparisons across southern Australia confirm that increasing the nutrition of Merino ewes improves their production and the lifetime performance of their progeny
- Behrendt, R., van Burgel, A. J., Bailey, A., Barber, P., Curnow, M., Gordon, D. J., Edwards, J. E. Hocking, Oldham, C. M., Thompson, A. N.
- Animal production science 2011 v.51 no.9 pp. 805-812
- Merino, birth weight, conception, economic analysis, ewes, fleece, flocks, lactation, lambing, lambs, pregnancy, progeny, ultrasonics, weaning, weaning weight, wool, wool production, New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia
- Experiments conducted by Lifetimewool at plot-scale have shown that differences in the maternal liveweight during pregnancy and lactation (liveweight profiles) of individual Merino ewes influences their wool production and reproductive rate as well as the birthweight, survival, weaning weight and lifetime wool production of their lambs in a predictable manner. This study determined whether these impacts of nutrition of the ewe on ewe and progeny performance are measurable on commercial properties across southern Australia at a paddock-scale where ewes were aggregated into flocks with a greater spread of the date of conception and where the liveweight profile of the flocks were managed based on random samples of 100 ewes and liveweight was uncorrected for fleece weight or conceptus. Eighteen paddock-scale experiments at 15 sites were conducted in cooperation with wool producers across Victoria, Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania. Each co-operator joined up to 1000 mixed aged adult Merino ewes. The flock was scanned using ultrasound at Day 50 from the start of joining to identify those ewes that conceived during the first 21 days of joining. These ewes were then split at random into two treatments and fed to achieve a target difference in liveweight of 10 kg or ~1 condition score/fat score at lambing. The production of ewes during their year of pregnancy and following their next joining was measured as was the performance of their progeny up to their third shearing. Only the 13 paddock-scale experiments that achieved a difference in liveweight profile at lambing of at least 4 kg were included in the final analysis. In these 13 experiments, increasing the nutrition of Merino ewes during pregnancy clearly increased the clean fleece weight and fibre diameter in ewes and the survival and lifetime wool production of their lambs. In most cases the size of the effect was not significantly different to that predicted by the relationship derived using individual liveweight profiles in the plot-scale experiments. This confirms that managing average ewe liveweight or condition score/fat score profile through better nutrition will lead to predictable increases in the performance of ewes and their progeny performance under commercial conditions and validates the use of the plot-scale relationships in economic analyses.