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Twin lambs the key to replenishing flock -

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Twin lambs the key to replenishing flock

Bronwyn Herbert reported this story on Monday, August 3, 2009 12:42:00

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's sheep industry is warning that the prime lamb business is under threat
unless farmers lift the rate of sheep reproduction. The number of sheep in Australia has dropped to
its lowest level in more than 100 years.

And the Sheepmeat Council of Australia says low wool prices and drought conditions have already
forced many farmers out of sheep production.

Bronwyn Herbert reports.

BRONWYN HERBERT: At last count the Australian sheep flock stood at 73 million - that's down from a
high of 180 million in the 1970s.

RON CULLEN: What we are seeing in the moment is that with the decline in the sheep flock, that the
critical mass of ewes that are needed to be joined to provide both the mothers for our prime lamb
industry, just to maintain the numbers at a critical mass is at threat.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Ron Cullen is the Sheepmeat Council of Australia's executive director. He says
there's a real need to boost sheep numbers and twins are the perfect way to replenish the flock.

RON CULLEN: You don't want a ewe having too many lambs, triplets, but what we want is more twins
rather than getting into an extreme.

We want to be able to provide her with good nutrition so that she'll cycle so that she has the
potential to have twins. We want to look at a ram that has high libido so we want to ensure that
they are seeking our ewes that are on heat and that their sperm is viable. There are all those
sorts of issues related around genetics and nutrition which we're providing information to
producers about.

BRONWYN HERBERT: How critical are twins to that mix?

RON CULLEN: Oh, very critical. You will inevitably get reproductive loss in a system and if you've
only got one lamb per ewe, every loss takes out a significant proportion of your lamb drop. If you
have only got singles, you haven't got as much room to move. Twin-bearing capacity is extremely
important.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Lamb prices surged to new highs this winter with some farmers receiving more than
$180 for each animal. Meat and Livestock Australia says the price of light lambs are up 25 per cent
of that a year ago and heavy lambs up 10 per cent.

Julian Roche and his wife Lucy farm near Orange in the central west of New South Wales. They, like
many farmers, are increasingly farming sheep for meat, rather than wool.

JULIAN ROCHE: We just believe in the long-term future of prime lamb. We are sort of in the process
of altering our ratios from our beef to sheep and sheep meat and the returns are there for the
increased work in terms of evaluating your product from the lower domestic trade weights through to
your heavier weights. So, you know, every kilo is an added incentive.

BRONWYN HERBERT: Julian Roche says the declining size of the nation's merino flock could have some
short-term financial benefits

JULIAN ROCHE: Then that presents the opportunity that with a smaller flock, that obviously the
supply base is less, therefore with increasing demand, we should only expect higher returns in the
short to medium term until that decline is reversed.

BRONWYN HERBERT: But he says a big drop in total merino ewe numbers will have an impact on the way
Australians produce prime lamb

JULIAN ROCHE: People are sort of, you know, certainly killing a lot of those maternal ewes at the
moment, merinos and cross bred with the high mutton prices as well, the numbers just aren't there
to stabilise the ewe flock, let alone increase it back to the levels of you know, 100 million to
150 million that they were some years ago.

So that is a big concern. We have recognised that and putting in some steps to sort of shield
ourselves against that increasing decline but for a lot of guys that are reliant on those first
cross ewes bred out of merinos, in time I think it will be a major issue for them.

BRONWYN HERBERT: The Sheepmeat Council predicts the Australian flock will stabilise this year but
it is hopeful a good season might mean a chance to increase the total numbers.

ELEANOR HALL: Bronwyn Herbert reporting.