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November Newsletter 

Opportunities galore | Benchmarking tool | Stubble findings

Call to join ewe reproduction study

Murdoch PhD student Elise Bowen wants your help!
Murdoch University is asking for producers help in order to better understand reproductive performance of maidens relative to adult ewes.

Murdoch PhD student Elise Bowen says in return for sheep producers taking time out to complete a survey with her, there will ultimately be the opportunity to benchmark the reproductive performance of an individual flock against regional and national targets.

“WALRC producer feedback sessions continuously tell us that reproductive performance is a key issue and so this PhD work will certainly help address that in part,” said WALRC executive officer Esther Jones.

“Elise is one of a team of young professionals at Murdoch really committed to making a contribution to sheep reproduction and so I’d love our industry to respond to this by taking the time to be part of this survey.”

To be join the maiden ewe reproduction survey, contact Elise Bowen at Murdoch on 0428 420 981 or or  if you fancy, click here to download the survey document. We reckon however, this survey works best by having a chat to Elise first!

WA Angus breeders raise concerns about growing instances of IBR

The WA committee of the Angus Society has brought to WALRC’s attention its concerns about the commercial significance of what appears to be a growing instance of both respiratory and venereal types of  Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis (IBR) in WA beef herds.

“This current resurgence is of particular interest to us with respect to bull fertility issues,” said committee member Lindsay Wolrige.

“At this time our main focus is with respect to the association between IBR and penis lesions and the subsequent bull wastage that comes with that.”

WALRC is currently talking to a range of cattle vets to make a provisional assessment of prevalence and is including questions on the topic in its autumn series of issues collection to help form a business case for further work in the space.

But meanwhile, a 2017 investigation into balanitis in beef herds in southern Australia was undertaken for MLA by the McKinnon Project. The final report can be viewed here.

Pregnancy scanning benchmarks tool for sheep now available

DPIRD has just released a new tool pregnancy scanning benchmark tool that will allow sheep producers to compare how their ewes perform against others in their region.

The tool allows the user to select within years, rainfall, cereal/sheep zone and sheep type.

It represents sheep scanning numbers as number of foetuses scanned per 100 ewes joined and displays the data in a bar graph, noting how many flocks and the total number of ewes in the comparison.

The 2018 WA Sheep producer survey showed that the average reproduction rate of the state flock ranges from 1.15 to 1.35 foetuses per ewe, depending on the season. However, only 17% of producers (about 30% of the State flock), currently scan for multiples, while a further 25% of the flock is only scanned to determine whether their ewes are pregnant or not.

According to DPIRD’s Mandy Curnow, by identifying ewes with twins and triplets, producers can manage them differently to boost lamb survival and production by focusing on twinning ewe nutrition, segregating them into a mob of multiples and providing suitable shelter. With this additional attention, the investment could translate into improved marking rates and more profit from each ewe – particularly with favourable sheep prices at the moment and each additional lamb on the ground worth $85 to $110 each.

Click here to access the Pregnancy Scanning Benchmarks tool  on the DPIRD website.

CSIRO’s modern stubble project deals up some interesting stats

WALRC Newsletter readers may remember CSIRO’s Dean Thomas call for stubble samples this time last year. In a win for ‘participatory science’, there are some interesting learnings from the effort:
Learning 1: The amount of grain per kg of feed varied widely among the chaff samples analysed. The average and range of the proportion of grain in samples of each crop is reported in the table below.

Learning 2: Chaff by itself will not meet energy or protein requirements of livestock, so feeding chaff will require ‘topping up’ with grains to get the most out of the feed. But the important decision is how top up is required? Ewes can be maintained on a combined diet of chaff with a high protein grain such as lupins.  However, the proportion of lupins needed depends on the chaff quality. Lupin chaff requires the least grain supplement, followed by barley, wheat and canola requires the most additional supplement.  
Crop Prop. edible chaff (g/kg) Quality of edible (MJ ME/kg) Protein in edible (g/kg) Grain in chaff (g/kg), range in brackets Chaff eaten by 50 kg ewe (g/hd/day) Suggested lupin supplement (g/hd/day)
Wheat 833 5.9 4.9 4 (0-19) 550 300
Barley 853 6.2 5.5 16 (0-78) 581 250
Canola 618 5.6 5.5 3 (0-18) 507 340
Lupins 849 7.0 7.4 6 (0-9) 716 150
Learning 3: Supplementary feeding of a chaff-based diet will also depend on the class of sheep or cattle being fed. Fast growing or lactating livestock require feed that is about 4% higher in protein than dry mature livestock. If a suitable supplement is not provided, stock will tend to pick out the higher quality chaff components, if they can, resulting in higher wastage of the chaff and the stock will likely lose weight.
A comparison of feed quality of the main stem with finer leaf and stem components of chaff (which we have called ‘edible chaff’), found that:
  • Compared with edible chaff, the ME content of main stems was 13% lower in barley, 20% lower in wheat and lupins and 31% lower in canola.
  • Although N content was also lower in the stem, results across the crops were quite different. N content of lupin stems were only 7% lower, while barley was 32% lower and canola and wheat were 22% and 23% lower, compared with the edible chaff.
As a large proportion of stubble is stem, which we assume is mostly inedible, it is difficult to estimate the proportion of stubble biomass that is edible. However, only about 15% of wheat, barley and lupin chaff was main stem so the proportion of chaff that we have assumed is edible is much higher than that over the overall stubble. It is not known how much of the main stem is eaten by sheep offered chaff, but it is likely that more barley stem would be eaten than main stems of other crops.

Opportunity to join team Murdoch

The sheep research team at Murdoch University is on the hunt for some new young talent. Team leader Dr Andrew Thompson is currently recruiting for research and technical officers; an administrative/communications officer and a PhD candidate.
More information about the positions on offer can be found here with applications closing December 10.

Michael Craig to spearhead WALRC’s Autumn forums

Michael Craig from Harrow in Victoria will spearhead the WALRC forums next autumn. The former Nuffield scholar and SPA board member is general manager of Tuloona Pastoral, a mixed broadacre livestock and cropping enterprise consisting of 18-thousand sheep, 500 cows and a 1400-hectare cropping program.

While his MLA-funded Nuffield study enabled him to thoroughly investigate the opportunities for improvement in the Australian sheep supply chain, his job at the WALRC forums will be to provide examples of his approach to applying research and technology to his beef and sheep system.

The WALRC Autumn forums will run March 25-26-27 in Many Peaks, Kulin and Badgingarra. More details in the early new year.

Great events coming up

LambEx, Melbourne Showgrounds: July 1-3, 2020

Australian Association of Animal Sciences: Fremantle July 13-14-15, 2020  (producer day on the 15th). More information at
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