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ARTICLES >> Livestock Articles

Scanning Pays

Posted by Bestprac on Jul 04 2012

by Liz Guerin

For Luke and Sonja O’Connor, of Floods Creek and Mount Poole Stations, their decision to pregnancy scan their merino flock yearly has increased their profitability and given them opportunities to make more informed decisions.

Located 40 km from Tibboburra and 320 km north of Broken Hill, Mount Poole Station runs a self replacing merino flock of 4000 ewes. Floods Creek Station, 120 km north of Broken Hill runs 2000 ewes.

In an effort to rebuild flock numbers, after destocking due to drought in 2009, the O’Connors commenced pregnancy scanning in 2010.

“We were down to our core breeding stock and, at the time, replacement ewes cost between $100 and $200 per head which for us was just too dear. Our remaining flock had been joined whilst away on adjustment, so our decision to scan was based around maximising what we could get out of what we already had”, Luke O’Connor said.

Getting the scanning done: Paul Cousins, of Cousins Merino Services and brothers Michael and Luke O’Connor preparing to scan their ‘rejoined’ ewes last week. Using pregnancy scanning, the O’Connors achieved a 95% conception rate over their entire flockIn their first year of scanning the sheep came back from adjustment in March and were scanned in the second week of April, with dry ewes put back with the rams for an additional 5 or 6 weeks. Of 800 dry (rejoined) ewes, the O’Connors marked 500 lambs (70% lambing). Over the whole flock, an 80% lambing was achieved – an improvement of 10%.

“Even in that first year, we thought scanning was really worth it”, Luke said. “Previously we were satisfied with 60-75% lambing, as we thought this was all the pastoral country could offer.”

Contractor, Paul Cousins of Cousins Merino Services said that in recent years he has noticed an increasing trend of pastoralists scanning their flocks.

“Producers are certainly seeing the benefits of pregnancy scanning. It is one of the easiest ways to increase your income, without costing you too much”, he said. “Scanning gives producers the ability to separate dry ewes, determine foetal numbers and more efficiently manage their stock by matching nutritional requirements of pregnant versus dry ewes.”

Scanning on the O’Connor’s stations is simply a matter of setting up the scanning machine on the end of the race or draft and separating wet ewes from those that are dry. Luke says that 3000 sheep a day can be comfortably scanned and, as it can be set up relatively quickly at different locations, stock don’t have to be moved too far and can then be turned straight back into their paddocks (keeping the drys separate).

“In our area, by separating the earlier and later lambing ewes, we are not bringing in and potentially losing tiny lambs when we muster for tailing”, said Luke.

Whilst admitting that it has been a ‘huge learning curve’ and equates to more work in terms of marking and mustering operations, Luke O’Connor says that it is worth it in terms of results.

“Over the last few years we have picked up an extra 2000 sheep through scanning – this more than covers the extra mustering and labour costs for us.”

The true benefits of scanning were realised for the O’Connors in 2011, when they scanned for their second year.

“We were experiencing the best season we had ever seen and we figured we should be around 80-85% in lamb”, Luke said. “When the scanning results started coming in, we were only around the 65-70% mark. That was a huge surprise and we were so grateful we did scan. At Mount Poole we pulled off 1200 drys and at Floods Creek, 600 drys.”

Luke feels that this is where scanning is of real benefit.

“Instead of waiting until lamb marking time to find out where you are at, by finding out earlier, you have more power to control the outcome. Whether that means putting the wet ewes into your better paddocks, rejoining the dry ewes or selling them off”, he said. “I know I would have been terribly disappointed if we hadn’t scanned because I would have been thinking it was a great season and wanting to build numbers up – and then wondering what the hell happened!”

The information gained from scanning has led the O’Connors to seek more information regarding their flock – and therefore make more informed decisions.

“If you are only 60% in lamb, then you have to ask yourself, ‘well, why is that?’” Luke said. “Is it foxes or something like brucellosis that can cause miscarriages and still-births?”

The O’Connors now run two eight week joinings back-to-back where, following scanning, the dry ewes are separated off and left with the rams for another 8 weeks. The dry ewes are treated with Clik® on their breech to provide protection against flies over a spring lambing. Meanwhile the main flock, which are heavy in lamb, are not being handled as much. Luke says that this system is working well for them, only requires a paddock to manage it and narrows the gap between the main lambing and the rejoined mob.

“The key thing is keeping the two lambings as close together as possible so that you have enough time to get the ewe up to condition again for a lamb next year.” Luke said.

With their lambing results improving with successive years, and a 95% conception rate this year, pregnancy scanning is something that the O’Connors intend to continue with.

“This year at the first scanning, we were close to 80% in lamb and we were over the moon with that. We scanned the ‘dry’ mob last week and only 5% were still dry”, Luke said. “Scanning has given us the ability to identify ewes that aren’t performing and to be able to make decisions as to whether to sell those animals based around additional information.” 

More scanning related information - Bestprac Case Study #4 - Select Twin-Bearing Ewes For More Lambs 

Last changed: Jul 06 2012

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