In 2018, due to tough conditions, we weaned lambs at 6 weeks old straight into the feedlot system. This not only benefitted the lambs, it also significantly improved the condition of the lactating ewes, reduced our feed bill and labour requirements as we did not have to put weaners on water, check fences and worry about weaners not feeding. This also took a lot of pressure off our rapidly deteriorating ground cover and top soil.
Early weaning significantly strengthened the condition and profitability of our lamb enterprise. We were extremely happy with the way weaned lambs performed in the system. They have strong stomachs and skins, setting them up for life and we had a very low mortality rate. Whilst the lambs were very small at weaning time from 14-25kg, (avg 18kg), they put on more than 280 grams/day over a 6-week period, gaining 12kg per head on average, lifting the average weight to 30kg.
Lambs were fed 1kg/head/day of a mixed ration consisting of barley, lupins and a grain buffer pellet. The cost to gain 12kg, was $21 per head, to gain $80 per head of weight value alone. Allowing $14 per head for operating and labour costs, this resulted in a net gain of $45 per head. The lambs were then turned out to irrigated millet under the centre pivot to grow to a finishing weight. This turned very small lambs into quality stud lambs we could continue our breeding program with in years to come.
The pasture condition is in a worse position now than in May 2018, although due to early weaning and an effective feeding program, our ewes are in better condition. Taking the pressure off the lactating ewes meant we could significantly reduce the ewe ration from 2kgs to 800 grams a day. On this much cheaper ration, the ewes increased body condition rapidly and were much easier to look after.
Given the success of early weaning in 2018, we will repeat the process in 2019 if the season doesn’t break, weaning directly into the feedlot onto a barley-lupin pellet ration plus ad-lib cereal hay. Even with the prices of grain, strong returns for lamb have made this feedlot a profitable enterprise which we are glad to have invested in at the start of the drought.