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Precision farming gives Merino breeder 100% live lambs

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The success of a sheep famer depends on the percentage of lambs which goes to the market eventually in relation to the number of ewes which dropped them. A farmer already has a continuous fight against drought, vermin and crime – he cannot afford not to ensure that there is a 100% lambing percentage.

“So many lambs are lost during the lambing process itself and by mismothering when ewes disown their lambs. Merino ewes tend to mismother, especially if it is a little dry, and we’ve had drought for a long time now,” says Jannie Lotz, merino breeder of the farm Tevredenheid near Hopetown in the Northern Cape.

He has now achieved a 100% lambing percentage as a result of a precision farming system which he devised himself to make sure that his ewes do not mismother. He could not deal with losing the lambs and before his system was in place, he lost many.

Jannie says: “The first five days after the birth of a lamb is the critical time for his survival, and I only realised when I applied my concept how many mistakes could sneak in and consequently result in heavy losses: The teats of a ewe can be blocked; she may have too little milk; the ewe has difficulty with lambing or the lamb may not drop, or some lambs are just too stupid suckle.”

That is why he came up with a concept of taking control of his ewes and their lambs for the first full five days after birthing an monitoring them closely so that every survivor could be marketed. “After five days a lamb is strong enough to move about with the ewes,” says he. Further he also use only 35 rams to serve the ewes to keep the lambing period as short as possible.

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Jannie’s system works as follows:

He divided one of his camps into nine smaller paddocks of about 8 ha each, and four blocks of about 2 ha each. Every paddock has its own water supply. Three days before lambing he divides his ewes between the nine bigger paddocks.

“The ewes in Camps 1 to 9 are herded together in their groups every day and then monitored. The ewes in every camp which has lambed on Day 1, are then placed, with their lambs, in Camp 10. “If Camp 1 has two ewes, Camp 4 three and Camp 7 one that has lambed, seven ewes will be transferred to Camp 10,” says Jannie.

On day 2 the process is repeated and Camps 1 to 9 are again monitored and ewes with lambs transferred to Camp 11. The ewes in Camp 10 with their lambs, are also monitored to make sure that the lambs are getting enough milk.

On day 3 the ewes in Camps 1 to 9 that has lambed, are transferred to Camp 12. Camps 10 and 11 are again monitored to make sure that the lambs drink enough.

The Day 4 ewes that has lambed, are placed in Camp 13 and the progress of the lambs in Camps 10, 11 and 12 are again monitored.

On Day 5 the ewes with their lambs in Camp 10 have been together for five days, and they are then transferred to a bigger, adjoining camp with an electrified fence that will keep the sheep in and the predators out. “Those lambs are then strong enough and they can graze fulltime with the mothers. Their chance of survival is very good,” says Jannie. “By doing this, the ewes in the system are getting fewer,”

On Day 5 new ewes with lambs are placed in Camp 10 in the place of those that have been have been put out to grazing, and in this manner the whole process repeats itself until all ewes have dropped their lambs.

The figure shows how Jannie Lotz divided his one camp into 13 to control his Merino ewes and their offspring to ensure a 100% lambing percentage. The ewes are divided into the first nine camps and, as soon as the lambs arrive, mother and lamb are taken to Camps 10 and 13 until the lamb is strong enough to graze with the ewe.

“No fodder is required with this system because the system is only used once a year after the rain season and the whole lambing process takes place naturally. Should a farmer have two lambing seasons, two such systems should rather be put in place to allow ewes to lamb productively without any expenditure on fodder,” Jannie adds.

He says ewes that drop twins are taken to the house immediately, put in a separate intensive care camp and pampered with fodder.

Jannie keeps record on his computer every day regarding the number of lambs that are born and moved around in his system. “I have great success with this system; the tendency is that the only loss is still-born lambs.”

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