Friday, April 12, 2024

Lambing early, lambing often

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Ewe numbers are losing out to encroaching forestry, but the harassed-looking mothers are making up the difference in more multiples after being mated in the early first cycle.
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Spring means new life and we are now on the cusp of the 2023 new season lamb market. 

The breeding ewe market was virtually nonexistent this year, as is becoming more common, and it really was a case of blink and you’ll miss it. 

But many regions in the North Island are now well into lambing and there is a noted increase in the number of lambs on the ground relative to the number of ewes, leaving some harassed-looking mothers and farmers in the paddocks.

Vet Services Hawke’s Bay has had a busy scanning season, though production animal veterinarian Anyika Scotland noted that volume was down.

“The biggest issue with scanning this year was access. It was hard to get to farms and much slower travel times. Some had rams still in with the ewes at scanning and some struggled to get the sheep in, especially if it rained as they had to cross streams due to bridge and culvert damage,” Scotland said.

“But ewe FEC were low overall and ewe condition was great.”

Data covering Hastings, Napier and Waipukurau farms was collected and from 380,000 maternal mixed-age scanned by Vet Services, an average lambing percentage of 173.8% was calculated, which is 5% higher than last year and the highest since 2004. 

That was led by increased numbers of multiples mainly with the dry rate average at 3.8% – 1% lower than last year. Two-tooth ewes showed a very similar result in terms of percentage changes – the average scanning percent was up 5% to 163% and dry rates down 1.5% to 4.7%.

In all, 105,000 ewes were covered in that data. The number of hoggets scanned this year was similar to 2022 at 46,000, according to Scotland, and the lambing percentage also dropped 2.5% to 100%. The dry rate increased 1% to 27.4%.

Alba Livestock Scanning covers a large portion of the east coast, and technician Sandy Campbell also noted a lack of single lambing ewes.

“The biggest change from last year has been the lack of singles around with a lot of places sitting at 178%-187% in-lamb, twin-single identification,” Campbell said. 

“The ewes have all flushed well with the high growth rate of pasture throughout summer and not many farmers having to work their ewes after weaning. This has been clear and evident with so many ewes being mated in the early first cycle and not many lates around compared with previous years.” 

What is lacking is the number to scan, with Campbell citing land-use change to forestry as one of the major culprits in the area covered, as well as cyclone damage issues. In all, 185,000 ewes were scanned by Alba Livestock and the average dry rate for mixed-age ewes was 2% and 2-tooths, 4%. Mixed-age ewes averaged 181% twin-single ratio.   

So far, the lambing season in Hawke’s Bay and the east coast has been relatively kind with no big storms to cause lamb losses. So, despite a drop in the number of ewes lambed this season, the increase in lambing percentages should lead to a similar volume of lambs coming forward to the processors and trade market. 

But what will likely be notable is that the lambs will be smaller on average, given most will be twins or triplets, rather than singles.

To date very few ewes with lambs-at-foot have been offered, but the current going rate varies from $60 up to $85 all counted. That is in stark contrast to the last the two years, when values of $120-$140 all counted were very common, making it a very viable market. 

But it may be that several lines of ewes with lambs-at-foot come on the market as the country heads towards an El Niño weather pattern and the need to take pressure off on farm grows. Currently, the old season lamb market is trading $40-$50 behind last year’s prices, and if that stays status quo, new-season lambs should hit the market come October at about $80-$100 per head, though size will have to be factored into that.

This article was written by AgriHQ analyst Suz Bremner. Suz leads the AgriHQ LivestockEye team, including data collectors who are tasked with being on the ground at sale yards throughout the country. Subscribe to AgriHQ reports here.

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