Triplet survival rates production goal
Central Otago sheep-and-beef farmer Austin Garden is expecting a good lambing result given the warm spring weather.
With a keen eye on increasing production and his bottom line, a focus on triplet survival provides the most promising opportunity.
Rising 1000 metres above sea level, at the bottom end of Central Otago, the rolling hill to high country of Avenel Station commands breathtaking views of Teviot Valley.
Avenel Station is home to 10,000 stock units – 4500 ewes, 350 breeding hinds and 200 breeding beef cows.
The 2500-hectare station has been in the Garden family since the 1960s when Eoin Garden, in partnership with his brother and father bought the property, farming sheep, beef and deer.
These days, Eoin and wife Noeline are in partnership with son Austin and his wife, Victoria.
Austin now has operational oversight of Avenel Station and the family’s 290ha/750-cow dairy unit in Heriot. Both properties run independently of each other.
Austin, Victoria and their four young children moved onto the station in 2012. Austin had previously been managing the Heriot operation.
In the summer, condition-score-three ewes go out to the tussock country. The ewes are a composite and, lately, some new genetics have been introduced to develop more hardiness for the tough hill-country conditions, constitution and longevity.
“We’re using landmark and snowline,” says Austin. “Landmark ewes are getting very good production on some big properties where they are obviously not pampered.
“The snowline are very hardy and a lot of them have smaller frames than ours. I’m trying to increase ewe efficiency, and I think ours are getting a little bit big.”
He has been achieving 140 per cent at weaning in recent years, and is keen to target 150%, but needs to reduce lambing wastage to achieve that.
“We’re quite extensive and haven’t done a lambing beat in the past. With lower lamb prices, it wasn’t economic. But I think that if we are getting over $100 a lamb, it will be, as we expect to hand- rear 100 lambs over the season.”
Austin sees the biggest opportunity to increase survival rate lying with triplets, which traditionally have a similar lambing percentage to twins.
He says that from 4400 ewes mated, he can normally expect 685 triplets, and there is potential for one extra lamb per triplet ewe through better feed and management.
After scanning, the triplet ewes are separated off and preferentially treated by feeding them a lot of barley and managed to increase their intake.
“The problem is that so much of the ewe’s stomach is full of lamb she cannot eat enough, so needs a highly nutritious diet. The barley is great for that.” Triplet ewes are lambed in the best lambing paddocks with the higher covers.
He’s looking to increase lamb survival by keeping a check on triplets and picking up mis mothered or weak lambs.
Despite keeping one person busy, there is a cost benefit. Austin says that increasing the lambing percentage of hoggets presents a further opportunity to increase productivity.
“We have 1500 hoggets and, depending on the season, we mate 40-60 per cent of them and normally lamb 70% to hoggets mated.
“We think we can increase that hugely. We scanned 139% – but again it’s trying to get those lambs to survive.
“The issue is the weight of the hoggets. The bigger you can get them, the bigger the birthweight of the lamb will be, and therefore the survival rate.”
He says that to increase the hoggets’ weight they are mating from June 1 and lambing from November 1. The station grows 50ha of fodder beet, on which the ewes and calves will be wintered.
“We find it’s really high-value feed for the ewes and is the best to get them through pre-lamb shearing in a cold winter, though there is some extra work in transitioning them from grass to fodder beet.”