As drought continues to grip much of the eastern seaboard causing record numbers of lambs and sheep to be slaughtered, thoughts have turned to how the sheep industry will rebuild.
Researcher and sheep industry consultant, Jason Trompf, Wangaratta, said the sheep industry was in for a balancing act.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve doubled the gross value of production of the Australian industry to $8 billion per year,” he said.
“There aren't too many industries around that have contracted to the degree we have, with 70 million less sheep, and gone up in gross value of production by $5 million.
“What's even more interesting, if you look at it on a per sheep basis, the average individual sheep in this country is worth about $120 and if you want to look at it on a per ewe basis, it’s much bigger again.”
Despite the soaring lamb and wool market Mr Trompf said the industry was leaking value.
“At the rate we’re moving, with current investment in R&D and producer adoption, we’ll achieve about three per cent gains in marking rate in the next 10 years, but in order to lift lamb supply and rebuild the flock, gains of 10pc are required.”
Now, producers are being urged to take stock of their operations and focus on achieving best practice, particularly for the Queensland flock as it embarks on a rebuild.
Mr Trompf said current data showed that only 68 per cent of ewes were producing a lamb through to weaning.
“That means one third of the sheep we’re running are glorified wethers,” he said.
“Effectively current lamb loss, between pregnancy scanning and lamb marking, in Australia is around 25 to 30 per cent.
“If this was reduced to 10 to 12pc lamb loss, in line with current best practice achieved by leading producers, it is worth $1 billion in profit per annum to the Australian sheep industry, after the cost of production of the extra lambs.
“Given the current state of the national flock, with record low breeding ewe numbers, there is no bigger opportunity than improving lamb survival for the Australian sheep industry, that will help ensure the supply of meat and wool markets and sustain/rebuild the national flock.”
Mr Trompf said achieving best practice and increasing the opportunity for lamb survival came down to pregnancy scanning and reallocating resources based on that data.
“When I say reallocating resources, it’s feeding the twin more in late pregnancy to keep the birth weight up, and maybe allocating a little less to the single and less again to the dry ewe,” he said.
“Resource reallocation involves things like pastures, supplement, and your best lambing paddock; it's any resources that you've got and you’re allocating them to the sheep that can respond best.
“As an industry, the biggest opportunity lies in the area of twins.”
Presently only one in four Australian sheep producers pregnancy scan for twins, and Mr Trompf said even less know how to do an energy budget.
“In order to reallocate resources, we need to know what each sheep requires and tailor that management and nutrition in accordance with that,” he said.
“This can still be done with big mobs on a large scale and the principles do work in extensive country.”