Fewer, more efficient ewes has been the number one driver of increased sheep productivity in the Gisborne region. It is a core fundamental driving profitable sheep production gains in recent times.

Having fewer ewes is also a core component of running a lower-cost business model.


These days well-fed sheep are heavy and have a high condition score. High condition score ewes are healthy and are less interested in dying than their skinny colleagues.

This allows the animal health spend to be more proactive. Less ewes and more lambs is all about fertility. Some farmers suggest we want less focus on our sheep fertility, they want our stud breeders to move away from the selection of Number of Lambs Born (NLB). They are concerned our scanning results are getting too high.

We were all probably saying that before 2000 when the district’s lambing was at 100% and some crazy guy was doing 130%.

Sure, we want balanced genetics, but as an industry we need to keep driving to sustainably produce more from less. So, let’s push hard for NLB with most top studs already doing an outstanding job.


Having got your fertile ewe flock, how do you turn that into live lambs?

We do not really have farmers lambing inside sheds at this stage in this district preferring to try and master a more natural paddock approach. I see the reasoning especially in a big storm event you would certainly sleep well knowing the new lambs were being protected. In many parts of the district we do not (touch wood) have snow, but we certainly can get rain and the associated chill factor.

A key focus for our paddock multiple ewes is having a bit to eat and some fat around. We are also lucky in many parts of our district we tend to grow grass to some degree through winter months.

Chuck in a bit of strategic winter nitrogen and, boom, we have some grass to work with.

Really our focus now is all about triplet survival as our singles and twins seem to be getting the results.

The successful landing of a triplet crop takes the same skills and planning to try and land a full jumbo jet at Wellington Airport in a southerly storm.

The seed may have planted five months earlier but preparation for a successful landing is almost a 12-month strategy.

Nail it, and you will get a nod of achievement at the highest level from your mates when celebrating with the end-of-docking beers. People say you cannot do a lot about the weather, but you can decide whether to put a coat on or not. There are tonnes of things you can do to minimise the impact of a storm at lambing.


Should we focus on a faster lamb growth for a higher weaning weight?

Lamb weaning weights are all about milk on mum. We are not feeding our ewes to their current lactation potential as demonstrated by the research graphs presented from Rene Corner-Thomas, sheep expert at Massey University. Feeding multiples and especially the triplets in the last six weeks of pregnancy will tap into some of that underutilised lactation potential. There’s still lots of unfed potential in those udders.


The concept to have been born and within 12 months you are all grown up and loaded with a lamb of your own just oozes efficiency. It is why it is a keeper, especially when it is also such a powerful tool for selection of our most fertile replacements.


I have often heard a top farmer say a bearing is a sign that you are getting the feeding of the rest of the ewes about right. That is tough to swallow when every ewe package is worth over $400 of ewe and lamb value. Well worth saving if you have the skills and time. But you certainly do not want to breed from them. Bearings used to be worse and were often associated with coming off the big winter rotation and going on to saved lambing paddocks.

Sadly, in comparison cattle efficiency is always going to be an uphill battle with the extra time to first mate and the difficulty with multiples. Despite the ambitious prediction from the cow’s udder creator.

Lets have lots of exciting opportunities to improve on farm sheep efficiency.

  • Peter Andrew is a farm consultant for AgFirst based in Gisborne.