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Pre-testing a boon for producers

INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE: Ben Banks and his wife Oona manage the 46,500-hectare family property, Rivington, west of Blackall.
INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE: Ben Banks and his wife Oona manage the 46,500-hectare family property, Rivington, west of Blackall. Contributed

A BLACKALL sheep and wool producer says introducing a pregnancy-scanning program could improve flock fertility by 10-15% within a 12-month period, as well as allow producers to fine-tune ewe management.

Ben Banks and his wife Oona manage the 46,500-hectare family property, Rivington, west of Blackall, where they run 25,000 merinos (when the season permits).

For close to a decade the couple has also operated a contract pregnancy-scanning business, processing around 100,000 head of sheep a year.

With sheep numbers on the rise nationally, driven by buoyant wool prices and improvements in the industry outlook thanks to wild dog fencing, Mr Banks said breeding flocks were becoming increasingly valuable.

"A shortage of sheep numbers is driving prices, so that in turn is encouraging producers to place extra emphasis on breeding programs,” Mr Banks said.

"Improving the fertility and productivity of your own flock is the most cost-effective way to boost your sheep numbers.

"I think scanning is one of the most untapped resources, especially in my part of the state, where there is so much potential for improving management of pregnant ewes.

"With the information gathered at scanning so many more options are opened up for producers. Central west Queensland is a harsh pastoral environment, but by identifying pregnancy status, we can tailor our nutrition and husbandry management programs so we end up marking more lambs.”

Mr Banks said pregnancy scanning allowed producers to draft ewes into mobs of multiple or single bearing ewes, as well as culling infertile animals, which improved flock efficiency and ensured feed was utilised by the most productive animals.

"Twinning ewes can be run in smaller mobs and fed to meet their extra nutritional requirements. Alternatively, if you opt to sell a scanned-in- lamb ewe they generally make around $20 a head more than a station-mated female,” he said.

"Meanwhile single ewes can be run in larger mobs and dry ewes can be run like wethers or sold.”

Within his own operation, Mr Banks said he had become increasingly focused on scanning for multiple pregnancies, so more productive ewes were managed well to ensure they delivered lambs on the ground.

"Since we've started scanning every year, we have been able to improve our flock's fertility, because we know what ewes are really producing,” he said.

"For example, when we first started scanning at Rivington, in the initial year we had about 75% of ewes in lamb, so we were able to identify and cull those infertile females.

"The following year we did the same thing and now we work on an average of 85-90% scanned in lamb.”

He said in real terms the program allowed him to lift flock fertility by 10-15% within 12 months and it was a sustainable improvement.

"Regardless of mob size, that sort of improvement, in terms of knowing what ewes are fertile and what they are producing for you, makes a significant difference to your bank balance at the end of the day,” Mr Banks said.

"To me it makes sense to know what your ewes are doing and while it might cost 60 cents per head, the benefit is you increase the number of lambs on the ground each season and you are better able to prepare for the lambing season,” he said.

"I think everyone should get into it and make more out of your sheep. You've got to make every single animal count and they're worth so much money now that spending a few extra cents on scanning them is worth it.”

Leading Sheep is an initiative of the Queensland Government and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), with support from AgForce.

One of AWI's main aims in its current strategic plan is to increase the reproductive efficiency of the national flock through various on farm initiatives that help promote best practice. 

Topics:  leading sheep pregnancy scanning rivington sheep breeding


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