Ewe pregnancy scanners said while some North Island drought-affected farms were recording conception rates 5-20 percentage points down on last year, many were still close to average.
However, ewes that were fed specialist crops or supplements over tupping time seemed to have bucked the trend, with conception rates matching or even beating last year.
In the South Island, early to mid-season tupped flocks in Canterbury were down about 10 points, Marlborough was slightly down and Tasman and North Otago rates were steady. Later-tupped mobs are still to be scanned.
Andrew Vavasour, of VavScan, is almost half-way through his scanning season covering Wairoa, Gisborne, Central Hawke’s Bay and Taumarunui.
He said his coastal Wairoa clients had had a good season and scanning results were on a par with other good years.
In inland areas more affected by feed shortages management had played a huge part, he said. Flocks of farmers who made de-stocking decisions early scanned well and were on par with other years or even better.
“Those who were reluctant to sell store at reduced prices have shot themselves in the foot, with hard-type lambs still on farm and ewes in poor to really poor condition. Thankfully this group of farmers is small,” he said.
Farmers who brought the tupping date forward before ewe condition started to decline had been able to hold conception at about the level of the previous season, he said.
“The feeling was that ewes were losing condition, so better to join the ram earlier rather than wait until conditions got any worse.”
Carl Williams, of AgScan, is about 20% through his scanning beat, which stretches from Masterton to Waikato.
“Early flocks were similar to normal but tupping dates from late February and onwards are down about 20%, especially two-tooths,” he said.
“Those who were reluctant to sell store at reduced prices have shot themselves in the foot, with hard-type lambs still on farm and ewes in poor to really poor condition. Thankfully this group of farmers is small.”
“Those feeding supplements early on are similar to normal.”
The drop in conception was because of far fewer triplets and slightly fewer twins, not significantly more dries, Williams said.
It was the flip-side for tupping dates in the top of the South Island, where farmers who delayed putting the ram out until late March were seeing better scanning results, because feed supplies were recovering at this time.
Hamish Monteath, of Farmtech, is about 70% through his Canterbury flock scanning list. Flocks were about 10-15 percentage points down, with a typical flock that scanned 172% in the past season likely to scan only 162% this winter, he said.
“There are fewer triplets and twins but around the same number of dry ewes.”
Farmers that set feed aside for tupping were rewarded for their planning, with ewes on specialist crops like rape or kale over tupping scanning better, he said.
Jeff Sewell, of Marlborough, is almost half-way through his winter scanning jobs and has noticed a difference between the early and mid-tupped flocks. Ewes scanned in early June, which were tupped in early March, were about 4-10 points behind but the flocks tupped in late March benefited from the feed following rain earlier in the month, he said.
“It has turned and I’m seeing a lift in conception rates, with some flocks even ahead of last year.
“One flock tupped on lucerne scanned over 200% and on the east coast, north of Kaikoura, flocks are scanning well.”
Steve Leslie, of Druids Hill Scanning, said his earlier-scanned Marlborough flocks were 10-13 percentage points behind the previous season, but conception levels in the late March-early April tupped mobs were matching last year.
“The feed was there.”
Early-mated flocks in North Otago appeared to have had a higher conception rate than last season. Rowan Farmer, of Stock Scan, said the small number of flocks scanned so far were about 5% up.
Nelson veterinarian Danny Hajdu said Tasman conceptions rates were tracking about the same as last year. The feed pinch in mid-March caused some ewes to lose weight over tupping and this translated into a five-point drop in conception rates.
“Those that flushed with supplements like balage during this time are about five points up,” he said.
Hajdu is booked to scan more ewes than last year and similar hogget numbers.
Vavasour has the same number of hogget mobs to scan this year but there are about 15% fewer hoggets per mob.
Hoggets put to the ram are down slightly in western and lower North Island flocks.
Scanners said ewe condition was good over much of the top and eastern side of the South Island but was varied in the North Island.
Jeff Sewell, of Marlborough, said he was consistently seeing sheep condition scores of four out of five. Eastern flocks in Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne and Wairoa were average to below average overall, with western flocks average to good.
The verdict for feed supplies was that North Island hill-country feed was green but short, with not much beef-cow feed on hand.