Musing on more frequent lambing

Moving to more frequent lambing is not something to be rushed, Graham Butcher says. PHOTO: SHAWN...
Moving to more frequent lambing is not something to be rushed, Graham Butcher says. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Shawn McAvinue talks to Rural Solutions owner Graham Butcher, of Gore, about lambing three times in two years.

Q. Have you seen this done successfully in the South?

We did a trial on it in Tuapeka West about 12 years ago and it seemed to work quite well but there’s a whole lot of prerequisites but it does work. You have to plan your whole sheep farming operation from scratch.

Q. If a farmer is lambing once a year, what changes would they need to make to lamb three times in two years?

Firstly, they would probably need to change their sheep breed because your standard breeds such as Romneys and Coopworths, only breed in the short days in the autumn but there are breeds of sheep around like merino, Poll Dorset and Dorset Horn which bred any time of the year. So that’s step number one.

Q. I heard you know of a farmer trying it out who narrowly missed a photo of a ewe simultaneously feeding her lambs while being mated?

Yes and eating silage at the same time.

Q. That’s one busy ewe.

Yes. It is a theoretical look at what might be possible with sheep. They are capable of lambing more than one time a year, no question about it, if you’ve got the right breed, so can we take advantage of that. Nothing will stop you in terms of animal health issues or shearing times. It is a similar pattern to eight-month shearing, you are lambing them in a similar pattern. It is an interesting concept.

Q. If sheep farmers are feeling the pinch and trying to find ways to create cashflow then is this an easy addition to a farm system?

It is something you don’t do in a hurry, you get into it slowly and feel your way in.

Q. Because if you got it wrong you could end up losing money?

Every eight months you’ll have a mating group so if they miss one mating, they slide into the next one.

Q. Do you think this will be common if sheep commodity prices remain soft?

Regardless of what the lamb price is, the question is can our sheep be more productive? The first port of call is lambing your hoggets and the next is can we lamb them more frequently than once a year? It is going to depend on your climate, your elevation, your grass growth, how good your farm is and how motivated you are. There are farmers around the world who do more frequent lambing in a year but no-one has taken it up on a commercial farm in New Zealand and made it work, so at this stage you’d have to say it is a theory, but an interesting one.


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