Throughout this episode, Al & Juddy have a comprehensive discussion about finishing lambs during the lactation phase.
They explore historical examples that shaped their understanding of how various forages integrate within a finishing system and provide valuable insights into how to optimise their use.
"The detail is actually understanding your forage and variety choice along with their seasonality. It’s really important because we are trying to match forage growth with livestock demand for the first month and a half of spring. Not all plants are equal, and not all varieties are equal in those windows of time" – Glenn Judson
Juddy Okay. Allister I haven't seen you for a while, looking well.
Allister Thank you, Glenn.
Juddy What are we going to talk about in today's podcast?
Allister We're going to be talking about lactation finishing in sheep systems. And so what we're defining by that is creating a high performance weaning event where you're actually finishing or weaning a number of lambs prime. At that time of year. So that's really getting them to a very, very good liveweight while they're still on mum. So that would be the system, Glenn, probably recap a little bit about the sheep breeding system in the sense that profitability in a sheep system typically is defined by the number of weaned lambs in the farm system. And so that's the highest goal is to wean the most live lambs possible for the number of animals carried. And that does mean in the New Zealand system that we are seeing some really high fecundity flocks where outdoor lambing percentages can be anywhere between 160-185%, which means a huge number of multiple lambs, including a large number of triplets that are dropping outdoors in wintery conditions in late winter and early spring, depending on where you are.
Juddy And I guess in terms of this, focusing on the lactation phase, what we're trying to do is create an opportunity where, as you say, and it might be seasons are quickly running into a dry period where we're trying to get the maximum, we're trying to get a number of animals into that weight range where they are prime of mum without weaning.
Allister So that technically is a 17-18kg carcass weight at weaning at about 90 days. Incredibly efficient animal.
Juddy Yeah, the most efficient animal you'd say. And so I guess we're going to focus in on, you know, what are the levers you can pull off if that's your goal. And also what systems lend themselves to that and what systems don't lend themselves because I think there's some times where that's probably not appropriate, actually. And that we should be focusing on other classes of stock or other production systems in terms of generating that. So we might look at the forage systems that might drive those. We probably need to look at the nutrient profile from those forage systems, what are we actually trying to do, what's important, what isn't? I particularly would like to look at what you need do in the ewe to set up to take advantage of that and that will be around what condition she's in, but also a bit of a chat around allocations and how we do that. And then right at the end, I want to have a really good deep dive into when we talk about productivity, whether we're talking about per head productivity or whether actually we're talking about per hectare productivity or we're talking about both. So we have a bit of a deep dive into that at the end, because I think that kind of sets us on your way in terms of thinking about whether some of these systems are appropriate for the outcomes that we're after.
Allister So I think again, let's sort of set the basis of the system up is that at lambing, depending on exactly where you are, we're aiming to set stock a group of ewes on, for example, a ryegrass or a degraded ryegrass pasture at about 12 ewes per hectare and a New Zealand ewe is about, at a stocking rate, they sort of talk about a 65kg ewe having 1.6 lambs. That probably doesn't exist anymore in New Zealand. You're definitely looking at an average flock that's heavier than that.
Juddy Yeah, you know, I mean I'd say sixties and early seventies is as a mature ewe, we used to talk about right back in the early days about a 55 kilogram ewe were having 1.1 lambs. And we've certainly moved on from that and I think as you see the performance and the efficiency of New Zealand flock go up, we've essentially got slightly heavier ewes but we've got a whole lot more lambs coming out of us.
Allister We're just defining that because for example for Australian listeners that is not the DSE that they're talking about, which is based on a merino weather, as a dry merino weather as a stock unit, whereas we're talking about a quite a productive and quite a heavy ewe which defines maintenance, caring capacity stocking rate. So I think that the key drivers to understand and it's a little bit of a thing about if you're a tourist in New Zealand and you're driving around the landscape and you want to sort of have a little bit of an idea about the climate you in. If you're driving anywhere between late winter and, say, mid-spring in New Zealand, you can pretty much judge your climate by the size of the lambs that are dropping in the landscape. So technically if you've got lambs in August, you are what I would describe as a mild environment that is possibly going to go quite dry in summer. And that's because you have lambed and you've been able to achieve your cover in the last month of winter and your set stocked for lambing your growth wedge is going to meet your ewes demand and then you're likely to dry off and be exposed to having to sell your lambs as in a store market in a dry late spring early summer environment. If you are driving around in the first week of spring and you see young lambs at that age, you're probably in a sort of genuinely intermediate winter environment where you've needed to have another month without lambing to accumulate that extra grass. Likely those ewes have been carried on a winter crop or been extensively grazed in a landscape where they're not too vulnerable to snow, for example. And again, you are looking at a system that can get some of those lambs to market just before Christmas. And then as you drive further into our hills and mountains, you tend to find we've got lambs at the end of the first month of spring and into the second month of spring. And this clearly defines how cold that environment is. Those ewes have had to be kept on feed for about 90 to 110 days. The spring has not started up until the second month of spring, and that can very clearly be seen by these relatively small lambs when you're driving around the landscape at that time. So that's always a wee indicator of the weather patterns and how cold springs are and how cold winter is.
Juddy And again, the dryland versus the high rainfalls, I guess some of these systems are very appropriate for low rainfall, particularly if that's occurring, you know, from mid-spring onwards are quite different systems. If we've got good summer rains that are going to be very predictable and that we've got feed that are being pushed well into the summer, for example.
Allister Yeah, and an element of that is that a lot of summer dry farming systems are about destocking on the onset of dry, which means that you're vulnerable to having to unload a large number of your lambs at this timeframe and take the market that is presented to you at that day in a higher rainfall environment, on better soils or heavier clay soils, you tend to find you've had a higher carrying capacity, you've had to work out how to get them through winter and you tend to find you can actually carry your own stock further into summer, which means your drivers for extra weaning performance are nowhere near as great as for a dry land farmer who's driven to get an outstanding waiting performance, because that's pretty much the definition of their profitability.
Juddy Yeah, true. And they don't have too many other options.
Allister They don't have that many options.
Juddy So I guess we could go back here, where we have had some experience in the past and is really around looking at, there's a lot of forages that can help in that lactation phase, drive growth rate particularly of the young lamb. And I guess it's a really interesting story about how we actually stumbled almost across this particular phenomenon and we did it with one forage but we recognise there were other forages that had the potential.
Allister The yield potential.
Juddy Yeah, absolutely. And also the seasonal growth profile that would do this. So we were measuring it was actually some hoggets they were being carried over as lambs through the previous autumn and into the winter. And we were measuring the live weight of these animals during the early spring.
Allister Which is not common. We don't often measure that time of year. We tend to just use them as lawnmowers to tidy up pasture covers and things.
Juddy But these animals and I honestly, I can't remember why we were measuring them. It might have been some work we were doing with gut fill, but anyway, these animals were being weighed on a very regular basis. And what we noticed from that early spring period on these animals were some quite unbelievable growth rates. These animals were actually growing very quickly during that period. So we started looking at the reasons for that. Yes, its high quality, but also.
Allister Hold on what are we talking about here, Glenn? You haven't told us what they're eating.
Juddy Oh, well I was just about to say, some of the characteristics of the forage that we're eating, which happened to be plantain, plantago. Some of the characteristics lent themselves for animals to have quite high intakes. And so what we started thinking about was.
Allister Well you actually have to go back a bit though, so first things first that species was only in the development stage when you identify this and in the mid 2000s we'd just done our first pure stands like you say I do remember this quite vividly. You were doing some gut fill work at the time, which was quite intense work because we all trying to work out the role of for example, fibre in summer cropping systems and understanding the role of fibre and how it breaks down and how long it stays in the gut and how much it contributes to weight from gut fill. And what I remember of the moment was that we ended up having a couple of different forages in spring time and we hadn't had a lot of pure stand plantain in that time. And back in the day I was working with Tonic a lot and we had just had our first pure stands of this because across all agriculture, our upright winter active herb plantain, Tonic, and back in the day was the first example of that we actually had and everything was being sown as one or two kilograms in a pasture mix. So having pure stands of it was very unique at that time, so all the research to that moment had been done on lamb live weight gain in summer.
Juddy Yes. And so the timing of this was quite different. I take your point that the fact that we had forages that were pure stands.
Allister Which we hadn't had before
Juddy Particularly we do a lot with ryegrass, but not with some of these other forages. And so the ability to look at both gut fill changes and growth rate from these different forages started us thinking about the opportunity of if we could get animals to grow very quickly. And some of that was driven around both quality, but also processing speed through the gut, for example. Was there an opportunity, you know, hoggets in the spring? Not particularly exciting but lactating ewes.
Allister Well, we didn't. That's the first thing you as soon as you saw the animals performance, the question was automatically asked is how could you elevate the value?
Allister Or test the value of a difference in spring performance, which actually no one had reported before. So that was pretty unique information.
Juddy The reason that we probably hadn't seen this before is if you think about spring, when we do our nutrient testing, for example, it's a time. Everything's high quality.
Juddy And so you wouldn't expect just based on quality that you would see this difference. And yet, you know, the difference in terms of our hoggets was there and it was quite large. So as you point out, we then went, well, we're not going to make a lot of money out of getting hoggets to grow slightly faster and spring.
Allister How do we systemise it?
Juddy So how do we systemise this? And when you think about what is the animal that requires a high intake of high quality feed for a period in the spring and you can make the most amount of money out of that, that is certainly the lactating ewe. And even if you want to get more specific, it's not actually a single bearing ewe because she's probably got the ability within a ryegrass stand to eat enough and produce enough milk. But where you've got ewes that have got multiple lambs, have a very high energy demand for their milk production that they have the potential to produce. Then that is a system where you can say, well if we can make a difference there, that could have a huge difference to the output from that system.
Allister Well, what I loved about the discussion right from day one is that, one, we identified the leverage point in the animal stock class where we could actually turn a live weight gain a unit, sort of almost unique bit of information at that time about performance in spring into a feed source for lactating ewes and lambs. But then we even started to say, well, if you then create a customisable feed for ewes to be set stocked on in the spring, what ewes would you choose? And as you've identified, you know, we just identified very early that a single wasn't appropriate, but then we got a little bit even smarter again because you looked at the other high value animals and that was the triplet bearing ewes and or first lambing hogget ewes, which are literally one year old ewes delivering their first lambs and they hadn't even created mature body size when they were lambing. So also using those stock classes as a lead in to utilise this nutritious feed type at this time of year.
Juddy Yeah. And so then we start thinking I guess about maybe what are some of the other forages that lend themselves to it. I just want to come back, because there was there was a fly in the ointment, right. And that was that, although we were having some success in terms of driving up both lamb live weight gain and actually holding more conditional on the ewe by having these higher feeding rates. The fly in the ointment was from a systems perspective, we couldn't hold as many animals. And when you think about that, it became really obvious. We kind of thrashed this around for quite some time until we realised it seems very obvious now if you've got a forage that's growing, let's say as fast as ryegrass, but we've got animals because of the architecture of the plant and the very short rumen retention times that animals are eating more of it then actually by difference. Right. It's logical that you'd expect you couldn't run as many on if every animal that you've got on is eating more. And so then we came to this point where this wasn't about systems productivity in terms of the total weight of lambs that came off this because the ryegrass was always going to win that because of the high stocking rate. What this came to was a situation where it wasn't important about the total weight of lambs, but actually weight of individual lambs. Would they meet the criteria to be, you know, drafted off mum and so at a slightly lower stocking rate, what we got is far more animals meeting that live weight target.
Allister You've got a systems chain, which basically meant you're selling prime lambs at weaning and not being. I think the industry standard for grass based lactation feeding is about 28% of lambs are prime at weaning in the New Zealand farm system today and you were clocking some figures, closing in on between 60 and 75% of all lambs in the treatments were prime ready for.
Juddy Were meeting those minimum targets.
Allister At 90 days.
Juddy Yeah, and we hadn't changed lambing date and we hadn't change weaning date. And what we've just got is increase in efficiency in terms of you producing milk, but also as we found out, lambs starting to eat drymatter earlier.
Allister Which was a big discovery because as we measured those animals quite a bit, we saw that there was no live weight gain change in the lambs for the first 20 to 25 days. Literally those lambs were equal regardless of what feed they were on through that early part of lactation.
Juddy And we've done that subsequently. In terms of even some of our allocation work, it looks like in that first month to, you know 5 weeks.
Allister There are some very young ruminants.
Juddy And mum seems to be an incredibly good buffer of what's happening in terms of the whole plane of nutrition within the system. And so, you know, after you've got through to peak lactation and beyond, if you've done that very well, you've got a ewe who's in reasonable condition. If you haven't and the lambs growing quite well, if you haven't quite got that right, you've got the lamb that's grown quite well. But now mum's a bag of bones and so she has a very good buffer in that early period. But once you get through that then it really does come to is she still lactating at any great amount? And more to the point, are those lambs now moving on to that forage and eating forage for themselves?
Allister Yeah. So I think that's the biggest observation. All the work we've ever done was that it was quite obvious that the lambs that were in, for example, the plantain, there heads were down really early 20 days to 25 days, you would walk out there and you just look across the paddock and the lambs weren't under there mums feeding the lambs with the heads down, taking nibbles out of this pasture, starting to eat, forage, starting to develop their rumen because they've been milk fed for virtually the first 20 days. And so looking back on it, I think when we saw this extra ewe live weight at weaning, so not just the lambs were prime but the ewe had either maintained live weight through the lactation phase where on grass pasture alone on average all ewes drop in body condition from the grass and legume based diet. On the plantain based diet, we consistently saw I mean your minimum live weight average in a treatment was about eight kilograms of extra live weight difference between a grass feed ewe and a herb feed ewe. And then that probably maximised out at I think one year we got 14 kilograms. You could literally see the difference in these animals after they'd finished raising twin lambs.
Juddy In our case. So there's two outcomes from that. One is that you've now if you're in a dry environment, you go dry. It's so much easier to hold those ewes at a current body condition rather than putting it on. But I think the other really important part and we saw this when we're doing similiar work in Australia where the value of that ewe if you were selling her as end of her productive life. Having her in really good condition from a sale point of view the value was so much higher and therefore the value of having these forages that are able to drive up intake and quality at that specific period of time is the value to the whole system its huge.
Allister Well, theres the farm systemization of identification of a feed that could do this. What you would be looking at on a flock size of about 3000 ewes, you could have anywhere up to 600 last lambing ewe in any one year. And from 600 last lambing ewes theres a very good chance that you would be still driving about 170-180% lambing. Well, you could have probably I'm just guessing at maybe 150 sets of triplets on a last lambing ewe that technically may be gummy or she might be poor body condition and therefore you put her in your cull mob. You could still be closing in on 100-150 sets of triplets. Out of 500-600 ewes you could be dealing with nearly 400 seats of twins and suddenly putting those animals, on a highly nutritious, easily grazed forage like our upright winter active plantain. Creates that whole nutritional profile we've just described where, you know, you can convert extra or maintaining body weight or even putting body weight on the ewe and still pulling off outstanding lambs by weaning. Absolutely optimises that sort of feed source when you know you're probably carrying two less ewes per hectare.
Juddy Yeah. And I think other important point was when we did that with, you know, the main mob ewe with a single, we just couldn't make that work.
Allister Oh you can't your two lambs behind, you've got these big fat ewes. They haven't actually produced a lot of meat.
Juddy Yes. And so I think that's where the systemisation of this, we realised that there were some parts of that sheep production system that this did not cater for, but there were others where we got additional value out of it. So then we started thinking, so this is quite useful from a plantain stand, but what else could we do this with. And so take me through Allister and let's talk about the forage, then the forage systems that these might sit in. Because there was a really obvious one, and that's one where we've got a bit of hill country. We're lambing down on that and there's one forage that comes through early in that spring period, which I think almost explains how big those lambs get at weaning in some of these extensive systems and being subclover. So where we have a big subclover year. What we tend to find is those lambs at weaning are so much better than when we don't have a big subclover year. So what is subclover and how does it align with the plantain system?
Allister Well, technically you've just defined another dryland species. So what you're talking about is an environment that is quite hard. You tend to find they are also quite likely to be our warmer coastal country. And sub clover really is a plant that requires a good autumn start for it to develop any momentum. New Zealand is actually quite cold compared to, for example, Australia. Where sub clover is a big traditional legume base for a lot of the sheep country. The issue with being cold for a legume is that you don't have a lot of time to actually develop once you germinate before you go into almost a dormant phase of just surviving basically. So the earlier you germinate, the more winter activity you'll have, the earlier you germinate on dry land environment, the more exposed to being killed by a late drought phase that you are. So quite regularly defining a good sub clover year would be a nice early break, a really consistent break where you get follow up rain. It gives you enough autumn temperature to develop the sub clover plant and allow it to build runners and create ground cover through the winter. And if the plant is big enough, by the end of August and early September, you're going to get a lot of pasture growth out of sub clover at that time. If the break is really, really late, the problem you get is it does come, but it's germinating at the end of autumn and even into the early winter. And it's a very, very small plant by the time you get to set stocking and therefore it makes a less of a impact on your season. So the break and how much winter and early spring growth you get heavily defines its success. But the beauty of it is that you've got this high density legume profile coming at that lactation phase in late winter, early spring, and that enables the same mechanisms to kick in where you've got a high protein, highly digestible feed, increasing intakes, the lambs starting to graze early and actually moving on to a legume based diet for their peak growth on mum. So it fits very, very nicely into that phase.
Juddy So white clover doesn't quite fit into that quite as well because of the seasonality.
Allister Yeah. There's definitely varieties that work and it can fit in and if you get a good enough break you'll have a white clover year. But the reality is, in most white clover country, our grasses are quite strong and if our grasses are quite strong, they are the limitation to how much legume you get at the start of the season. In a true dryland environment, our grasses aren't always that strong come winter and early spring. And so, sub clover has the space and the horsepower to actually support that sheer amount of dry matter in a white clover environment you tend to find you've got a little bit stronger ryegrass growth pattern. You tend to find at low temperatures, ryegrass dominates, hence we get good high stocking rates on ryegrass at set stocking with ewes and lambs because ryegrass is an ultimate grass to be set stocked on good covers and cool conditions. And the reality is white struggles under those situations, anything under 20 degrees, air temperature, whites not firing big time, whereas ryegrass loves that air temperature around 18 degrees. So, they're the big differences.
Juddy So talk to me about red clover, because this is probably one thing that's surprised us when we were talking about this lactation phase. You know, what are the attributes of red clover that may be useful in the system.
Allister Well, I think. The key here is all the other research we've done, which is highlighting the seasonality of pure stands of red clover, red and white together, but red clover. And I feel it was only through the pure stands work where we're running red clover by itself that we can actually judge it for its annual productivity. It's performance in every month of the season. And it's very, very obvious that in the middle of winter, it's not a particularly strong grower relative to ryegrass or even our winter active plantain. However, I think time and time again we have been truly surprised by exactly how active it is, particularly in its first full calendar year, where it gets its first full spring. I think it has consistently surprised people how active it is in the first month of spring and something that you think doesn't have a lot of dry matter present you can set stock really good numbers of ewes and lambs onto and you tend to find red clover is not only capable of holding 10 to 12 twin bearing ewes per hectare at the start, which is actually considerable, but you can never keep up with it after you get into the second month of spring. It is exploding away and as a productive system that's bringing its own nitrogen to the system, it's really effective. And I just think all in all it's a surprise package for how much it does produce early and getting the confidence to even set stock on onto sub clover. Sorry red clover is always a bit of a surprise. Now we've been talking very generally here, but every category we've talked about actual varieties have different traits. These are really high level descriptions. Where actually there's some really average red clovers for early spring growth. You know, some of the later flowering types aren't particularly strong early. There's winter dormant plantains that don't grow for the first whole month of spring. You can't set stock on them because they're literally still prostrate. So you know, be aware that one privision in all these discussions is we're talking in general terms at the high level, but the detail is actually understanding your variety choice and their seasonality in this discussion its really important because we're trying to match forage growth with animal stock demand and lactation feeding is quite a unique time frame, which is either the last month of winter and the first month and a half of spring. And not all plants are equal, not all varieties are equal in those windows of time.
Juddy Yeah, so and that's really important point is actually making sure that you've got the right species.
Allister Yeah, it's just not red clover, it's not just plantain dying.
Juddy But actually it's the cultivars and the genetics are able to.
Allister At this time, you know, over a 12 month period these things all might be a little bit more similar and everyone can be generic but we're now talking about systemisation. We are now talking about a really critical time in a business that you don't want to wake up one day thinking you're going to set stock on to 1200 kilograms of dry matter and it's going to grow really fast underneath your animal. But you've put in a completely winter dormant type where you're starting at 600 kilograms and there is no way it's going to grow under those animals. This is not a small thing. Remember, the very same varieties in a calendar year may be close. So I'm not saying these other types aren't right. I'm just saying we're talking about a systemisation,a weaponization of it's, you know, the potential specific types of plants for a stock class and a leverage opportunity in that stock class.
Juddy Now, you make a good point, Allister, because I think, you know, as you alluded to, particularly that winter activity, if you're expecting it to be very active by the time that you've got ewes and lambs on the ground and it's not. That's a complete disaster.
Allister Correct and I've seen some of those, by the way.
Juddy And you make an extremely good point. So paying attention not to just the, you know, the variety mines better than yours, but actually the variety in terms of when you are likely to get when it's.
Allister Especially for a system, especially for this system, this is probably the discussion where cover and dry matter production over that critical point of time is probably second to no time in the whole calendar year. So if you don't get it right, there's a lot of stress.
Juddy Yeah. And I don't know whether I've seen this before in other podcasts, but particularly in a sheep system, for example, I reckon there is two critical times of the year, which largely will reflect in terms of the successful outcome of the whole season. One of those is around mating.
Allister In the autumn.
Juddy Get nutrition right in the autumn and we can get the maximum number.
Allister Changing body.
Juddy Increased body condition, but also increasing that protein supply. And therefore, you know, potentially we've got more lambs. And the other one is certainly around this period of time, if we can do a good job during that lactation phase, we get lots more live lambs on the ground. And at weaning we get the highest or we try and maximise the weight of those lambs. I think those two times fall to the bottom. We have talked about forage systems and we've talked about those forages. In terms of the nutrient profile of those, there's probably two key bits really. The first one is energy. So actually the reason that we are driving for higher milk production and we are getting lambs growing faster when they start consuming forage is that we are dealing with high quality forages. And it's interesting, there's not a lot of difference between those, but what I would say is we're not looking at saved ryegrass. This is actually ryegrass, which is spring active. I think that's an important point. I think the other thing is around protein. Crude protein, I think there are a number of different sources. The things I like about the clovers, for example, is we do have a high degree of true protein not by just nitorgen.
Allister When you bring up that discussion, it's another good example is using lucerne in dryland environments, you know, to bring ewes and lambs into lucerne early in lactation for exactly the same outcome.
Juddy Yeah, and again, I guess the lucerne is a really interesting one because there's probably a time limit, you know, you probably can't get them in that early that they are probably a little lighter than some of the other forages, but again, they bring their own nitrogen and can be very, very useful from that perspective. I think the other one that we are aware of is around intake. And when we look at the improved performance of ewes and lambs in these systems, it usually comes with an increase in the amount that those animals are eating on a daily basis. And so the way that animals are able to graze those forages in terms of is it easy to get down there throat or are they actually finding it very difficult to eat the maximum amount of dry matter in a day? So that's the way the pasture has been presented, but also the speed at which that material breaks down and animals were returned to grazing. So rumen retention times or something we call the fractional degradation rate is actually I think is part of it in terms of driving higher intakes or making it easy for those animals to getting more energy in a day. The other one and plantain is particularly useful in this is around calcium. So it's a relatively high calcium plant. If you've got a high calcium demand, if you've got twins, a twin bearing ewe, then that can be quite useful. Not to say that our ryegrasses are likely to be deficient, but certainly where calcium demand goes up, they can pull calcium from skeletal reserves, but they can also be provided by a plant that's high in calcium. And and so I think that's quite useful from that point of view.
Allister Yeah, just for that one. It's well worth noting that setting up a particularly one of our cattle in our Ecotain lactating paddocks, for example, you do have a few management requirements leading into the use of those stands, particularly with ewes.
Juddy Yeah, absolutely. And I think one of the things that we're very keen on making sure people are aware of is if you are using a plantain lactation system, the way that you get animals onto that is quite important in terms of what you need to do during that lactation phase. So essentially in a ryegrass diet, for example, as we get closer to lambing, those ewes will start mobilising skeletal reserves of calcium because there's not enough in pasture to meet the needs that they're about to have and that peak demand for the ewe comes on about two weeks prior to lambing, whereas actually are making a lot of colostrum and calcium demand is actually quite high. It's later in cattle, but if we're just focusing on sheep, it's about two weeks before. If you have been on a diet which is high in calcium, for example, plantain, and in some situations that can be three or four times higher than young ryegrass, for example. Those animals don't respond to or they respond to the high calcium intake by not starting that process of mobilising skeletal reserves. And so that's not a problem unless you then move from a plantain diet to a ryegrass diet two weeks prior or later in the lactation phase, because then the animal very quickly becomes calcium deficient and needs to start mobilising calcium from skeletal reserves and can't do that immediately. There's a time lag in. So what we're saying here is if you are moving towards lambing on a plantain diet, then you've really got to stay on that because if you come off on to a ryegrass, particularly close to lambing or in the first phases of lactation, you can run into issues in terms of hypercalcemia.
Allister And I've seen the worst case scenarios where you just take them off literally to vaccinate. And just taking them off for that day is enough to crash them, particularly if they're triplet bearing or something like that.
Juddy The classic one I've seen is they were close to lambing, they'd been on that, they went into the yards and then spent one day in a grass pasture before they were going to go back.
Allister Quite empty.
Juddy Quite empty. And, you know, the difficulty about that is if they were almost there in terms of there calcium intake, maybe a bit of borogluconate would get them over the hill. But because these animals are so far away from meeting their own calcium needs and they've been relying on the plantain, you know, that requires multiple days of supplementation to get them there.
Allister So my recommendation is that when you've got plantain stands and they are used extremely early in the winter, they tidied up in late autumn and early winter, long way away from lambing, and then they're left to generate pasture cover for set stocking on. Once you've actually set stocked on them, you never take the animals off. And what you do is you try to manage your areas and your stocking rate that you don't need to take the animals off that pasture feed. Once off lamb there's no issues and you can run them. But we still advise keeping them on the same diet for as long as you do, because what you find is when they start transitioning back to ryegrass or a grass pasture, you moderate your outcome straight away. So you go halfway between what the result could have been. So yeah, I really make sure that we recommend systemising this being aware it's not just a paddock to be put in a rotation or a block that's to be put in a rotation. It's to be used early in the winter, shut up for early lambing. Once you see it stocked you do not take them off and that should minimise any of these risks.
Juddy Yeah, in terms of that, some of the methods that we have thought about in terms of trying to maintain cover. So feed budgeting is really critical here to make sure that we've got them stocked up at what we think will be the right amount. The other one is this technique called rocking. Where if we're able to set up a rotation, even if it's just between two paddocks, that allows the plant to have a higher average leaf area and therefore we're growing a bit more. And what that means is that we don't run into the situation where we run out of feed quite as often.
Allister Yes, because they can eat to a very low residuals with these plantain based pastures.
Juddy Oh yeah.
Allister And actually do amazingly well at low residuals.
Juddy It's not uncommon in some of that work, to be harvesting post grazing pasture masses of 400.
Allister Yeah and those animals still doing well. So the point is you still want that nip to come off the top. I think what happens for us is that we end up stocking at ten. We get our lambs on the ground, on the ground for 20 to 25 days and then they start eating and they start eating a lot earlier than you're ready for and on general pasture. And so suddenly that sheer numbers amount start to really compound. And unless you can get some momentum from a growth perspective and as you say, rocking is one way of doing it. To be fair, just a general early adoption of a rotation is another way of doing it rocking has been an effective way for us. But setting up a 3 to 4 paddock rotation early is a way of generating momentum but staying tight on that and keep bringing animals into it with time. The animals that will benefit most are the ones that have been on there the whole time. You shouldn't be afraid of bringing animals in after as well. The thing that I think we've attributed, that live weight gain to the ewe two and I have anyway, is that the reduced demand on milk as the lamb starts eating early. She is literally got this demand on her and she's putting that straight onto her back. And I feel that's the logical answer to why these ewes have got such a good body condition at weaning.
Juddy Yeah, certainly often we see that during that lactation phase is the easiest time to increase body condition score. And so you're right as the demand for milk production goes down. All of that excess energy is going to straight onto body condition. So it's pretty useful, I think, just to finish this off, just a really quick conversation around this idea of productivity per head and per hectare, because I think that really does define if you're thinking about what success looks like, if you're looking at the systems where we have systemised these forages that are able to drive high milk production and early growth rates, we're not necessarily driving for per head production because we are probably each individual animal was eating a little more and we're not able to hold necessarily the same stocking rates. So that's not really the per hectare figure if we're chasing that, then I would say ryegrass is the king of that. You can stock that up and you're going to get some, you know, some really useful growth rates out of that. But it's where per head production the weight of as many lambs meeting target as possible where that is the measure of success then that brings these systems into play.
Allister Absolutely and it brings them into play for specific stock classes. And those classes which are added value. Twin bearing, first lambing, ewe lambs, hoggets, gummy ewe's, ewe's that are last lambing ewes that you're about to sell the ewe as well. So you get your two lambs, plus you get almost like a half another lamb because the ewe has got such a good body condition from a margin perspective. And then for example triplet ewe mobs where the ewe is trying to sustain three lambs, not just not just two.
Juddy It was disappointing. We actually ran a trial where we got a whole load of triplets and looked to see whether we could actually get more of those lambs through to weight relative to a ryegrass treatment. Unfortunately, what happened is we had the trial set up and it was stocked and it looked amazing. And then about three nights later there was a foot of snow. And we're back to now looking at a single bearing ewe treatment.
Allister Not a happy story.
Juddy Not a happy story at all. But I think the principles hold true that we've got animals that have a high demand, some of these forages which lend themselves for high intakes and a lot of energy being passed over that they are the right things to be driving for that per head performance.
Allister And when you ask yourself, well if I'm going to use this on my farm, how much do I use? And this is the whole point of what we've just said, is that what you aim for is a workable area, not all put on at once, put it in a rotation, so you've got it so to multiple years. But to get a critical amount for a specific, you know, stock class and I use, for example the 500 to 600 cast for age ewes used for lambing for the last time. And if you are trying to achieve a $30-40 weight margin out of them, the key then is how many of those animals you need stocked at 10 ewes per hectare. You need 40, 60, 80 hectares of this crop to do that specific stock class. And so I feel the maths always sits within the business operation. You're always looking at this added value stock class where you can get more or a better outcome like the live weight of the ewe hogget at weaning means that she enters the mob as a second year ewe in a far better productive state. All of these things are efficiency add ons to even trying to use these efficient lactation feeding systems.
Juddy And I think the other point too, is that they may pay for the a value or they may realise their value over a relatively short period of time, and they shouldn't be judged for the fact that they don't do everything at other times of the year. The systems sometimes live on the fact that if you can get a period of eight weeks, absolutely right that puts more in your bottom line than the rest of the year.
Allister Well, for example, some of these businesses would without doubt be making 85% of their margin before Christmas. And one of the things you see when you systemise for that outcome, you tend to find some of the operations actually see. The fact that it doesn't work, for example, for cattle finishing in the following winter when actually you've already made 85% of your margin. But actually putting plantain, which is a low, dry matter, high moisture content plant in front of a cattle beast in winter, when it's a high moisture content environment, you haven't added any fibre to the diet that's not performing to your expectations. Doesn't mean the system doesn't work. It just means it's not ideal for every stock class in your farm system. And again, it's where you have to look at how much is appropriate for your critical stock class. And then you have to gear it to understand that actually these other stock classes that I might have to recognise it's not perfect for, but they have to use it.
Juddy Yeah. So summarising I think we've got to the end on this one. It's a really interesting topic because it's kind of blended some farm system stuff with some kind of systemise animal output. So I think it's been a really good one from a summary point of view, we've talked a little bit about the forages that lend themselves to this in terms of when you use them and how you'd go about using them. We've talked a little bit about the nutrient profile of what they need to be. You know, and we've unpicked that a little bit. We've talked a little bit about the methods of grazing and the fact that we do need a rotation and how much you need and as Allister quite clearly points out those numbers will be withinside the business. But I think you've got to think about this is not for everything and that small amounts can make quite a large impact on those systems and we've unpicked the difference between driving for per hectare outcome or a per head outcome. And both of them are right they're just right and different in different ways.
Allister Yep. And I think that sums it up really, really nicely. And I would suggest that again, I think a large part of the conversation does sit with the drier farming environments where efficiency is actually super important. You actually have no control over your selling prices when you're selling into a store market. And this is one of the very few ways to actually take control of some of that really profitable high margin parts of a sheep business in a dry environment which is weaning prime off mum in spring.
Juddy There reminds me, got to put the ram out. So listen, I'll be off and we'll see you next time.
Allister See ya Juddy.
Juddy Really pumped Allister we have Lara from marketing back in the studio to ask and answer questions.
Allister Excellent. Welcome, Lara from Marketing.
Lara I'm back.
Juddy You are back.
Lara Tracy wants to know, is there any research into finding a grass that repels parasites from wanting to live on its sward?
Juddy Hold on Allister I've got this one. Tracy. The answer is in terms of grass, nothing obvious, but actually different pasture species have different ways of handling those infective larvae. So grass itself is actually quite a nice species for those infective larvae, particularly in the early morning dew for those infective larvae to get into the grazing zone. There are some plants that make it a little bit more difficult for that transfer to happen. And these tend to be plants like lucerne and chicory where we're not holding or the architecture of the plant is simply quite different to ryegrass. Ecotain is another one that's been proven to not harbour as many L3 infective larvae, and I think it has the added advantage of being able to provide some extra protein to the animal, which makes them far more resilient. So yes, there are some species that the transfer of infective larvae to the animal was so much more reduced. But in terms of grasses, nothing obvious.
Allister Okay. Can I just ask you a question regarding that? Something like prairie grass with all its hairs on it. Is that a positive or a negative?
Juddy In some ways it will be a negative because it'll hold the water. So the water actually gets the droplets of the water that are increase the survival of those infective larvae. So having some hairs on you something that you don't have a lot of Allister but having hairs on it will probably improve the uptake of all L3 infective larvae.
Lara Okay. And Stephanie's got a harder question. Who's the better cook? The wife or your mother?
Juddy Oh, Stephanie..
Allister That a very dangerous question.
Juddy That's a very dangerous question.
Allister It's quite obvious it's the wife, because that's who I'm married to. And I also say that with impunity because my mother's unlikely to be on Facebook.
Juddy Good answer. I'll abstain.
Allister Thanks Lara from marketing.