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Merino weaner monitoring project

Project: Merino weaner monitoring project, 'Hillcrest', Gunning

Producer: Jack and Jennifer Medway

Location: "Hillcrest", Gunning NSW

Property size: 1500 ha

Soils: Mixture of granite (80 per cent); and lighter shale
based soils, pH 4.2 - 4.4 (CaCl, unlimed)

Pastures: Mixture of improved (phalaris) and native (weeping grass and wallaby grass)
perennial grasses with annual grasses and subterranean clover.

Enterprises: Self-replacing Merino flock with 30 per cent joined to Border Leicester rams.

Background:

Weaner losses in both Merino and cross-bred flocks are highly variable and can cause significant financial loss. Management not only plays a critical role in minimising losses, but it also determines the financial return from young stock. Weaner survival is a function of BOTH weaning weight and post weaning growth rate. Animals that fail to gain weight post-weaning become vulnerable and are prone to dying. Adequate nutrition is also needed to ensure weaners continue to grow and meet liveweight targets for joining. A weaner monitoring project was established at 'Hillcrest', Gunning. The main purpose of the project was to benchmark weaner performance and provide a reference point for sheep producers across the Southern Tablelands.

Project aims:

  • To monitor Merino weaner health and performance over the first 7 to 8 months post weaning.
  • To highlight the nutritional requirements of young stock.
  • To help sheep producers minimise losses and develop feeding strategies to ensure production goals are achieved.

Results to date:

  • Average liveweight at weaning was 19.3 kg, well below the industry target of 23 kg. However, good rainfall in late January and storm events in March resulted in weaners grazing a green ‘pick’ made up of mainly weeping grass (Microlaena stipoides).  Weaners responded, putting on 7.4 kg between 15 January and 4 April 2016 (average growth rate of 92 g/hd/day).
  • Growth during April and May was much slower, with weaners averaging 1.5 kg over the period. 17 per cent of weaners actually lost weight, with weight loss ranging between 0.5 kg and 3.0 kg.
  • While a long, wet winter presented challenging conditions for livestock, the merino weaners managed to achieve excellent growth, averaging 6.3 kg. This was achieved on short, native pasture with minimal supplementary feed. Importantly, the ewe weaners are now on track for meeting joining weights next autumn.
  • The three liveweight groups are becoming more even over time. At the end of winter there was very little difference between the ‘low’ and ‘mid’ groups. The data shows that some weaners have consistently performed well post weaning, while other individuals have struggled.

Weaner performance from 25 February to 6 September 2016:

Group

LWT

(ave)

LWT gain

(ave)

Daily LWT gain

(g/hd/day)

25 Feb to
4 Apr

LWT

(ave)

LWT gain

(ave)

Daily LWT gain

(g/hd/day)

5 Apr to
1 Jun

LWT

(ave)

LWT gain

(ave)

Daily LWT gain

(g/hd/day)

2 Jun to
6 Sep

High

30.4

3.0

77

31.0

0.5

9

37.6

6.5

99

Mid

26.8

3.6

92

28.3

1.5

27

33.9

5.6

85

Low

22.8

4.3

110

24.5

1.7

31

31.5

6.8

103

To obtain a copy of the full report contact:

Matthew Lieschke
Senior Land Services Officer – Livestock
02 4824 1913 / 0428 271 127
matthew.lieschke@lls.nsw.gov.au