Indoor lambing practiced by Pyramid Agriculture results in lower death rates

The death rate of triplet lambs, which used to be around 1 in 3, has fallen to 1 in 6 with indoor lambing.

The number of ewes saved is justification on its own for lambing indoors, according to Richard Dawkins who runs the family farming business, Pyramid Agriculture, in Marlborough’s Waihopai Valley. Now into the sixth season of indoor lambing, Richard has found that the farm-wide lamb death rate has improved from the national average of 24% to around 15%.

“Additionally, what’s been really rewarding is that we used to lose 10% of triplet ewes when they lambed outside, but now that’s down to 2%-3%,” Richard says. Further, the death rate of triplet lambs, which used to be around 1 in 3, has fallen to 1 in 6.

Pyramid Agriculture is built around a 602-hectare main farm, including farm forestry and viticulture, leaving 400 effective pastoral hectares. The purchase of a neighbouring 187-hectare block in 2015 was to enable Richard’s parents, Julia and Chris Dawkins, to commit some of the best land to viticulture without having to reduce the number of stock units. They started with 50 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc in 2015, added another 50 hectares two years later, and a third this winter.

The farm proper today carries around 3000 stock units, though Richard Dawkins suspects that one sheep per stock unit understates the productivity of his flock of 1,150 composite ewes and 350 hoggets. The composite genes are supplied by Long down rams bred by Jane and Chris Earl in North Canterbury, containing elements of Coopworth, East Friesian and Texel.

“The ewes have a mating weight of 80 kilograms, and they wean 1.6 lambs each at a 20-kilogram carcass weight, so working it out on the basis of dry matter consumption year on year, they’re probably worth 1.3 stock units each, and our overall carrying capacity might be around 3,300 traditional stock units,” Richard says.

Besides the sheep, Pyramid Agriculture carries 80 Friesian bulls for beef, bought in as 100-kilogram weaners and sold two years later at a target carcass weight of 350 kilograms. There are also 150 Jersey bulls which are leased out to dairy farmers for mating, and so are off the farm from late October to early January, freeing up pasture at the driest time of the year.

The indoor lambing is conducted in covered yards built in the 1970s, to which has since been added a large shed, all sub-divided by Prattley panels. Ewes are taken into the shed the day before they’re due to lamb and can stay as little as 48 hours, but mostly five or six days. Timing of lambing is assured by using ram harnesses at tupping, with the crayons changed every three days for the first two weeks of mating when 80% of the flock gets marked, reduced to every six days after that.

Based on scanning, the flock is divided into single lambers, twin and triplet mobs, with all but the twin-lambers spending time in the shed. Triplet and single lambers make up 40% of the mob, and there could be up to 700 ewes through the shed in a season, comprising 500 ewes and two-tooths and 200 single-lambing hoggets.

© Waterford Press Ltd 2024 – Independent Print Media New Zealand

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