Rural Diary August

Rural Diary August 2019

PGG Wrightson's monthly technical guide to assists farmers with planning on-farm activities, to maximise productivity and grow their business.

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Influencing lamb survival

Now that ewes are pregnant, the focus turns to maximising the survival of lambs to ensure profitability of the sheep breeding system.

Placental development influences lamb birthweight, which in turn strongly determines survival rates post birth. The development of the placenta between 30 to 90 days has the greatest effect on subsequent birthweights of lambs. Bodyweight loss in the ewes during this zone of greater than 5 kg (approximately half Body Condition Score (BCS) unit or more) has been linked with lower birthweights, particularly in multiple lambs, and with survival of these lambs impacted.

Ewes need to eat approximately 1.3 to 1.5 kg DM of good quality grass to maintain pregnancy through this early to mid-point of pregnancy. If areas are short of available feed and the temptation is to restrict feed intakes during this stage, then lamb birth weights can be severely impacted.

Ultrasound scanning occurs between days 60 to 90 of pregnancy. This gives important information on status and helps identify multiple carrying ewes which have higher energy demands as pregnancy proceeds. 

This scanning process provides an opportunity to physically BCS ewes while in the yards. Separate light ewes below BCS 3 and preferentially feed with energy dense, high protein feed in the next 30 days before rumen fill is restricted by the rapidly growing foetuses in the last month of pregnancy.

If quality feed is short in supply, then serious consideration of supplementary feed, for instance sheep nuts or dehydrated molasses blocks containing bypass protein, are good options for providing extra nutrients. Introduce slowly to this high priority group. 

Foetal growth in the last 50 days of pregnancy is rapid and coincides with significant udder development by the ewe for subsequent colostrum production and lactation. Rumen space is restricted resulting in an inability to physically eat enough energy or protein for the demands of the multiple foetuses. Feed restriction at this stage of pregnancy increases metabolic problems for the ewe, and results in poor milk quality and quantity for the lactation. With severe feed restrictions, ketosis (sleepy sickness) or hypocalcaemia (milk fever) occur and result in higher rates of lamb deaths and often ewe deaths. These problems are all preventable through identifying at-risk ewes early and feeding optimally highly nutritious feeds.

Lamb deaths at lambing and in the first few days post-lambing are due to the big three: dystocia (difficult birth), starvation or exposure. Lamb birthweight, which is already set by this stage, is the main influence in the starvation/exposure complex especially in multiples. 

Lambs that are small have less brown fat and are prone to the effects of hypothermia. If you come across these weak cold lambs, then immediate energy is required before you warm them up. Intraabdominal glucose administration increases survival of these lambs. Once glucose is on board, then lambs should be warmed and fed with milk once responsive.

So, the take home point to maximise the number of live lambs this spring is having ewes well fed throughout pregnancy, optimising lamb birthweight, ewe milk production and maternal behaviour. If you have any questions on lambing, contact your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative.

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The journey to meeting calf weight targets

It is often said that heifers reaching their targets is a good indicator for farming success. Heifers reaching 30 percent of mature liveweight at six months, 60 percent at 15 months (mating) and 90 percent at 22 months (pre-calving) are crucial milestones.

“Keep in mind that younger calves have a higher feed conversion efficiency,” says SealesWinslow Nutrition and Quality Manager, Natalie Hughes. It basically means that they can readily convert feed into liveweight and do so more effectively than later on in life.

As they mature, it is easy for them to fall behind and miss the next target. This can be detrimental for their development and for their physical maturity. For one, it is important to consider that body weight, rather than age, drives puberty and ultimately determines mating success. There is also a clear link to productivity. It has been shown¹ that heifers that don’t reach their target liveweight at first mating can produce up to 34 kg MS less in their first year. They also continue lagging behind in their second and third year of lactation, with a further production deficit of up to 30 kg MS and 29 kg MS respectively. These numbers make a compelling case as they represent a lost opportunity of up to $558 per heifer (assuming a $6 payout)¹.

Natalie emphasises the importance of consistency. “Don’t wait until a target is missed,” she says. “Being proactive to ensure consistent weight gain really pays off, and is more cost effective than trying to play catch-up. With a thorough monitoring regime and regular weigh-ins, you can accurately identify calves should weight gains start to slip. It means that any gaps can be promptly addressed without falling behind too far.”

At that point, a high-energy supplementary feed is your first port of call. Natalie recommends Rumatain Weightgainer with Rumensin which is specially formulated to help growth after weaning. This great tasting pellet includes essential oils that stimulate appetite and enhance rumen development. It is also a durable pellet and it has a flavour profile that reflects the SealesWinslow calf meal range, making it easy for transitioning. Alternatively, Natalie suggests Forage Max, a dehydrated molasses block that increases energy for rumen microbes, but helps promote dry matter intake.

Regardless of your approach, be sure to follow good nutritional practice, introduce new feed gradually, and ensure that animals have access to ample clean drinking water. If grazing is limited or leafy, add quality hay or straw for physically effective fibre.

Talk to your PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative to get some tips on meeting weight targets. 

Supplied by SealesWinslow

¹ H. Archbold et al, Animal (2012), 6:7, 1143-115.

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Pest control goes digital

Rats can cause significant damage on farms, lifestyle blocks, and orchards, gnawing on wiring and getting into animal feed, so controlling them matters. 

Goodnature is launching their latest trapping innovation, Chirp, a digitally enabled trap that can be retrofitted to any existing Goodnature A24 Rat and Stoat Trap. Once installed, and after downloading the Goodnature App, trappers will get smartphone notifications via Bluetooth™ every time the trap kills a pest, as well as when it is time for a new gas canister or lure.

The A24 Rat and Stoat Trap has been popular in the rural sector for over a decade, known as a reliable tool to keep rat populations controlled. The A24 is a carbon dioxide powered, humane rat and stoat trap, which has a range of valuable features:

  • Automatic resetting saves time 
    The A24 automatically resets up to 24 times, killing rats and stoats one after the other, and reducing the need to check traps from monthly down to just twice a year. The latest Chirp functionality gives A24 customers even greater oversight of their trapping operation in real time on their phone. Efficiently and humanely disposing of 24 rats per trap without having to manually reset is a valuable time and money saver.
  • The A24 traps are non-toxic
    The lure used in A24s is non-toxic, so there is no threat to livestock or pets, and can be set in cow sheds. Working dogs and pets won’t be exposed to poisoned pest carcasses, as the risk of secondary poisoning, is eliminated. 
  • Keep connected and know when the Chirp-enabled trap has been activated.  
    Chirp has been designed to keep trapping on track. Chirp connects the A24 to smartphones via the Goodnature App. Being automatically notified when traps have been triggered helps trappers know how many pests have been killed. With scavenging of dead pests common, Chirp makes the unknown, known.
  • Be notified when the trap’s lure and gas canister need replacing.
    Knowing when traps are low on lure and gas is key to keeping trap networks operational at all times. Given the minimal servicing needs of an A24 trap, it is easy to lose track of when a trap needs new gas and lure. Chirp does the tracking automatically and helpfully sends reminders when it is time to re-gas, and re-lure Chirp-enabled traps. 

Chirp is being launched in PGG Wrightson stores across New Zealand in August. There will be both Chirp retrofit kits and fully enabled Chirp A24 kits as well. Visit your local PGG Wrightson store today to find out more.

Supplied by Goodnature

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Greenlight Grower Management: A farmer's perspective

Last month Jay Howes introduced Greenlight Grower Management (GLGM), and highlighted how PGG Wrightson is using this decision support software tool to improve agronomic recommendations from Technical Field Representatives (TFRs). This month, I am going to introduce the concept of accessing GLGM yourself and explain what benefits there are to owning your own farmer subscription.

When I think of farmers and growers accessing GLGM in partnership with PGG Wrightson, I see two major benefits: 

  • Traceability and compliance

     Whether it is your fertiliser records for a nutrient budget or agri-chemical application records for compliance, the requirement for farmers to supply on-farm information is increasing. To put it simply, having a paper record is simply not good enough anymore. It is too easy to lose and ultimately someone has to spend some time entering that information into a digital format.

    GLGM takes the hassle out of this process. It stores all of your agronomic recommendations and application information, and the data can be exported with ease. Imagine not having to rummage around your office trying to find a printout from your fertiliser supplier to help build your nutrient budget; imagine extracting all the data you need with the click of a button, anytime you want it, anytime you need it. 
  • Openness and accountability

    The relationship between farmer, TFR and contractor is special. There is a high degree of trust between the three groups and for the process to work efficiently and precisely, the flow of information must be seamless and quick. GLGM enhances this process.

    The TFR can enter information from the paddock directly into GLGM which can be viewed by the farmer in real time. This can then progress into a product order and the necessary information relayed to the contractor, all with the click of a virtual button. The contractor can apply the product and notify the farmer and the TFR within the system, keeping everyone in the loop. Nothing is lost to chance and everyone knows where everyone is at.

GLGM is an ever evolving platform, new functions and features are continually being developed and released into the system. One interesting new development coming in the next couple of months is the ability for farmers to manage their own internal agri-chemical stock levels. Farmers will be able to store in the system all their current stocks that are in their chemical sheds. TFRs and contractors can see these stock levels in real time and draw on them for supply when making a recommendation, effectively reducing the chance of an order being raised for product that you already have on-farm.

Using GLGM to help drive agronomic decisions offers an unprecedented level of open and efficient communication between advisors, contractors and farmers. With subscriptions starting at $450 per year (NZD), there really isn’t any excuse not to be embracing the digital age and coming on board in partnership with PGG Wrightson. 

If you would like to know more about GLGM, contact your local PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative and a demonstration of the software can be arranged.

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