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Getting the best out of
your sheep
Paul Kenyon, Massey University
Senior Lecturer
Creep grazing
Ross Brown, Farmer
Faster growing lambs
for better returns
Faster growing lambs in spring and early summer for better
returns was the focus of an excellent Farming for Profit field day
held at Evan and Clare Chapman’s property, Rockburn Farm, near
Geraldine. A good crowd of about 70 came along to tour the
farm and hear from Professor Paul Kenyon (Professor of Sheep
Husbandry at Massey University) speaking about growing and
finishing lambs and cattle.
Health and safety from a
farmer perspective
Mark Adams
Jacqui and Richard Robinson
03 6939077
[email protected]
Extension Manager
Angela Stead
03 686 9877 or 027 801 4758
[email protected]
Evan (left) and
Angus (centre)
Chapman explain
their bull finishing
system. The 24ha
area was developed
by Angus 20 years
ago and is now
sown in 6 different
ryegrass varieties.
One in each lane.
Rockburn Farm (540ha—397 cultivated and 510
effective) has been farmed by the Chapman family for
a number of generations, and we were able to observe
some of the improvements that have happened.
The Kakahu irrigation scheme from Lake Opuha has
enabled intensification of the flat area with a centre
pivot covering 42ha. It also supplies K-Line irrigation to
another 110ha on the lower rolling country.
3000 ewes produce about 150% lambing with lambs
finished to 17.5kg c/wt. They finish a mix of beef-bred
and Friesian cattle (mostly bulls), aiming to finish 240/
year with a kill weight of >300kg. The farm has a dryland
beef finishing area (technosystem) where the cattle are
divided into small groups and shifted every two days.
The farm is mostly ryegrass based although there is
some use of specialist lamb finishing mixes, notably a
chicory/plantain/red and white clover mix. Evan has
found this to be very successful although he also values
the ease of management and year round production of
ryegrass. Having a rotation that enables a significant
area of finishing crops while still allowing enough area
for lambing ewes in early spring can be difficult.
This year the rainfall has been substantially below the
expected annual rainfall and comes straight after a
challenging time last year, when the Opuha Irrigation
scheme was not able to deliver any water at all for a
large part of the summer. This put a lot of pressure on
the farm and resulted in some stock not being finished
to their expected weights. Evan notes that this spring
already seems to be drier than it was at the same time
last year!
Getting the best out of your sheep
Professor Paul Kenyon is the current head of the
institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences
at Massey University. He is also the Professor of Sheep
Husbandry. The research he undertakes is aimed at
improving on-farm productivity and profitability. He has
led or co-led more than 100 sheep research studies in
the last 10 years in New Zealand and he came to Kakahu
to talk on how to target and achieve good lamb and
cattle growth rates in spring and early summer.
Paul began by giving a brief refresher on some basic
principles of lamb growth to achieve high performance:
Do not restrict intake
Maximise bite size
Allow the animal the ability to choose
Ensure herbage is of high quality.
This will allow heavier lambs at weaning which generally
display greater lifetime performance as well as being a
more efficient system with less feed required in total.
The feed saved will then give options for the farmer in
terms of more feed to maintain the capital stock or to
finish more stock.
There are some important principles that need to be
considered to achieve this high performance:
Sheep need to be offered pasture of at least
1200kgDM/ha but any greater than 1800kgDM/ha
doesn’t result in any greater intake or growth rate
Ideally, ewes need to be in BCS of 3.0/3.5 to get rear
lambs to their potential (he observes that farmers
seem to be reluctant to put their hand on sheep to
assess BCS)
Sheep farmers are dairy farmers because they need
to focus on maximising the daily milk yield early in
the lactation of the ewe.
Paul then used this information to discuss the recent
research that some of his team have been doing around
the use of herb and clover mixes in sheep systems.
They knew that different feeds have different growth
rate responses and that these are largely a factor of
feed quality, but they have found that offering a feed
choice to the lamb results in better performance than
when offered no choice. This is shown in the graph
comparing leaf turnips with a herb/clover mix that has
similar average growth rates for each mob but a much
tighter spread. There will be fewer tail end lambs when
grazed on the herb mix.
ewe flock. This can mean that mating hoggets is not
profitable if their live-weight targets cannot be met.
The post Weaning growth rates of lambs in New
Zealand on average are pretty low. A weaned lamb at
28kg late December and killed at 38kg mid-march has
only averaged 100g/day. Generally this is an effect of
not enough good quality feed being offered.
Early weaning (at 19–20kg) can be successful if high
quality “rocket fuel” herb/clover mixes are available to
wean onto. This can result in better growth rates than
the lamb would have achieved if it was unweaned on
a poorer quality pasture, as it is effectively competing
with its mother for that pasture. Another benefit is that
the ewes that are to be retained after weaning are not
further dragged down by producing milk for the lamb.
Extra condition is not needed to be put back onto her
before mating in the autumn. 1 BCS is equivalent to
7–8kg and so a ewe that is BCS 2.5 would need to grow
at 75g/day from weaning, to be back at BCS 3.5 in time
for mating.
The better ewe performance and positive effects on the
weaned lambs is even more important when hogget
mating is considered, as any underfeeding will result
in lambing difficulties, ewes that have not been grown
out to their potential and probably less longevity in the
To achieve their potential growth rate, lambs must be offered
lots of easily harvested, good quality feed. Management of herb/
clover mixes to grow quickly and persist is the same management
that is required for the lambs to grow at their maximum.
Fast cattle finishing is just as dependant on lots of good
quality feed being offered. In Spring/summer:
Keep pastures between 1400–1600 and 2500–
2800kg DM/ha for high performance in young cattle
Pre grazing controls pasture quality
Post grazing controls animal intake
If possible, increasing post grazing residuals (closer
to 2000kg DM/ha) and decreasing pre grazing
levels allows even better growth. This is dependent
on having another stock class that is able to “cleanup” behind the finishing cattle to maintain the
quality of the sward.
Recent research at Massey has shown some excellent
benefits from offering young growing cattle a chicory/
plantain/clover pasture mix.
Creep grazing
Ross Brown farms near Fairlie and several years ago
spoke to the South Canterbury Farming For Profit group
about his experiences using creep grazing to achieve
faster lamb growth rates pre-weaning. He came to this
field day and gave an update of his recent results with
creep grazing. It has certainly been successful for Ross.
He weans his lambs at an average of 34.2kg at 93 days
and that is from a lambing of 150%!
The benefits he sees are that the lamb has an ability
to select what it eats without the competition from
the ewes. Ross also notices that the pastures that are
creep grazed have better pasture quality. It takes very
little training of the lambs but they are often offered a
mineral lick to encourage them through the specially
adapted creep grazing gate. It definitely achieves better
growth rates in the lambs and this is shown when he
compares the weaning weight of similar mobs on similar
paddocks that have not had access to creep grazing.
Ross was questioned whether it made the lambs
“pokey” and inclined to push through fences. Ross
replied that they didn’t seem to put any more pressure
on the fences but were very quick to notice any gate
that had not been secured well enough and would
quickly escape. As he doesn’t have a large number of
ewes, he doesn’t keep any replacements and all his
lambs are bred to terminal sires. He agreed that this
also contributed to his good weaning weights. The ewes
which are with the creep grazing lambs all tend to be
2–3kg lighter than the ewes with lambs which aren’t
creep grazed. Ross considers that this is in line with
Professor Kenyon’s comment of the ewe and the lamb
being in competition later in the lactation.
Paul finished with a summary of the best management
of plantain/chicory herb clover mixes for production
and persistence.
Don’t graze below 8cm
Spelling between 8–15cm allows taproot recovery
Introduce stock between 15–30cm
Introduce slowly
Set stock for lambing and then start rotating
post tailing
Be careful with stocking rates—you do not want to
have to remove ewes in peak lactation
Ewes and lambs can be introduced post lambing.
Sward sticks which have been calibrated to be used for
this pasture mix are available from Beef + Lamb New
Zealand, or Massey University. Some will be available
at future Farming for Profit field days held in the South
Canterbury region.
The gate has every second steel upright cut out of it. Ross no
longer strengthens the gates with a wooden bar, now preferring
to weld a piece of flat steel to every upright along the same
position as the wooden rail in the photo.
The gates are commercially available.
Health and safety from a
farmers perspective
Mark Adams is the President of South Canterbury
Federated farmers and a member of our Farming For
Profit farmer committee. Recently he invited a WorkSafe
advisor to come onto his property to look at his farm
Health & Safety Plan. He shared his take on the Health
and Safety challenges facing farmers. Mark started by
explaining there are a number of levels that this topic
is being debated at. In Wellington Fed Farmers and
Beef+Lamb NZ are working to ensure that prescriptive
rules aren’t what drive Health and Safety on farms, he
believes that farmers’ integrity and buy in is what will
make the difference. “If it is just compliance based we
will all tick as many of the boxes we need to, to have it
just go away.”
Mark sees four clear reasons for us all to be engaged in
this space:
There is a perceived urban rural divide. To ensure
that farms are seen as good places for young people
to seek employment, we need to ensure we are as
safe as we can be
Mark said that WorkSafe NZ are in an educational phase
at the moment and are willing to work with farmers
to develop plans and systems that suit their particular
farm. In Mark’s case the worker was interested in his
attitude and his thoughts about H&S on his property.
Some prior reading of a Federated Farmers H&S manual
($80.00 and 40 minutes) with some farm specific
notes in the margins, as well as a farm map identifying
hazards, were well received.
Marks final comment was that most of us have this stuff
in our heads and it is simple stuff. Having a plan and
being consciously aware is much more likely to stand
scrutiny if something does go wrong on your property.
There are no excuses, and it could be that the paperwork
stands between you and the judge. He sees real benefits
in the conversation with the Worksafe employee and
believes we need to “lock in our rights to not have
Wellington set rules for us by bringing the stats down”
2. Like any sports team, you look after your mates.
Small businesses are similar to a team….we need to
look after each other
3. Many farmers don’t employ people; they are owner
operators and often employ contractors at critical
times. Mark commented on how much organisation,
time and planning is required for him to be able to
get away on holiday for a week or two, and that’s
with time to plan! Imagine how much more difficult
it is if you are suddenly incapacitated because of an
4. We can’t trust the judicial process. In Mark’s opinion
some of the penalties handed out to farmers are out
of all proportion. No farmer has calculatedly planned
an accident but in some cases have been treated
worse that criminals who consciously do harm. The
Courts are using farmers to set an example…don’t let
it be you.
Extension Manager
Jacqui and Richard Robinson
03 6939077
[email protected]
Angela Stead
03 686 9877 or 027 801 4758
[email protected]