Spring Valley Enterprises - Lambing Project

November 2014

A FITT lambing project being run at Spring Valley by Ellie Meadows

Four intensive research projects to increase farm production are underway at Matt and Lynley Wyeth’s Spring Valley farm near Masterton, which is one of Beef + Lamb NZ’s demonstration farms.

Ellie Meadows, a local farm consultant with Baker & Associates, is the project director for the four research projects on the Wyeth farm. Ellie is originally from Dorset in the UK, growing up on a family sheep and beef farm, and then completing a Bachelor of Applied Science at Harper Adams University specialising in Agricultural Business and Farm Management. She worked as a consultant in Hertfordshire before moving to NZ in 2011. “I came to NZ with the thought of shepherding for six months and going back home again. I worked for Matt as a shepherd, and when he and Lynley went on holiday, I ended up looking after their children.”

“I had already applied to become a consultant with local farming consultants Baker & Associates. Matt and Lynley had a really good scanning and decided they wanted to do more with their potential lamb crop. Two years ago, I suggested we try indoor lambing with the triplets. The first year, the project was a FITT (Farmer Initiated Technology Transfer) project and then last year we decided to approach Beef + Lamb to become a demonstration farm. That’s when I became project manager.”

“My input varies quite a lot, and it’s about 40 to 50% of my time at the moment and 10% later. It’s a big job in my overall consultancy role. My messages from this are; don’t be scared to try something new. And don’t ignore your triplet ewes. Lambing is our harvest time, so we want to harness the potential. We don’t always have to farm the way our great grandfathers farmed. It’s important to learn from others and use technology to improve your farm profitability and bottom line.”

The four B+LNZ projects which are being conducted on the farm:

  1. Lynley is shed rearing 250 to 300 orphan lambs and lamb fostering with three schools
  2. 1000 ewes having triplets under cover
  3. Rising two year steers feeding on supplements made by local company Sharp
  4. Accelerated weanings of lambs at 50 to 60 days.

Lambing starts for the Wyeths in the last week of August and first week of September. They say for them it is unacceptable to lose 20 to 25% of lambs between scanning and birth and their trials are a way to reduce this loss and to increase production.

Research began a couple of years ago on Spring Valley. Matt lost 1,000 lambs overnight during a storm, a loss he describes as “heartbreaking”.

“You can’t take 1,000 lambs back and put them in front of the fire. So we decided the next year we would set up a facility to rear lambs in case of events like that. We were seeing lambs we knew wouldn’t make it, so we decided we would pick them up and put them in the orphan shed. In the first year we reared 250, and instead of watching them die we gave them a chance. We had two freak snowstorms, which we don’t normally get in September. We picked up 99 lambs one day and saved every one. Where twin lambs were being born in the snow and wet, I would take one twin off the ewe and then two hours later I was picking up the second one.”

“We were lucky enough to go on a trip to the UK with 15 other farmers, seeing 21 farms in 21 days. It was all about seeing how we compared in efficiency against UK farmers. We went over there pretty smug thinking we were better farmers than they were but when it came to animal production and per head performance, they kicked our arse. They had very little wastage, and at the same time we were scanning and getting some pretty high scanning percentages.”

“That made us think; why couldn’t we take our triplet ewes, which have the highest potential, and lamb them inside? At the same time we had a UK woman Ellie Meadows babysitting our kids. She said she knew how to do it. We had 400 triplet ewes and she proved it could work.   We applied for a FITT project to explore that. We found we could dock 260% out of the triplet ewes lambed inside, and 190% out in the paddock. That is a 50-60% increase.”

“From 50 to 60 days we are feeding the ewe to feed the lamb. We wanted to find a system that would put as many lambs as possible on feed crops, so we could put the ewe back up on the hill. I was talking to our sheep breeder Focus Genetics, and they had seen some research from Australia about it. We are exploring ways to wean earlier and get the lamb doing just as well. That will also make better use of our hill country.”

“Lambs growing on our hill country weigh like corks, so we need to bring them lower and feed them more. The early weaning system we use is pretty much like yard weaning cattle. We use grain and then put the lambs on crops. They weigh 3.2kg higher at 120 days by doing this. Because we are not looking to wean a lamb straight off the ewe, we can do this. We want all our lambs at 19 to 20kg rather than weaning them and selling them straight away. At the same time we want this to help the ewe. The efficiency driver in ewes is their longevity. If we mine our ewes every year they will peter out. One of the biggest costs in a ewe flock is replacement.”

The cattle project is about increasing cattle growth rates in autumn. “In the last two years we always seem to fall into a hole with our growth rates in autumn with our cattle. We have followed it closely, monitoring weights using EID. We sign contracts for our beef to be killed in three month’s time and once we sign the contract, we know the price and the end game. From this point it is a question about how can we maximize growth.

We are grain assisting as well as feeding the cattle on crops. It is different from feeding supplements. With grain assist we are getting a 44% return on capital. We are only trying to feed the cattle 10% of their diet. They are already eating 9kg a day and growing at 1kg/day.   They get fed 30c of grain each day, and we have measured an extra 500g of growth, which returns $1.25/kg.”