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Courtesy of Meat & Livestock Australia

Joining ewe lambs can increase profitability by up to $57 per ewe lamb joined – and a new tool has just become available to help producers make informed decisions to maximise gains from the practice.

Developed by Murdoch University, Farming Systems Analysis Service and neXtgen Agri with funding from MLA, the tool provides guidance on the cost-effectiveness of joining ewe lambs as well as management strategies to maximise profitability from ewe lambs joined.

Project lead and Murdoch University’s Associate Professor of Animal Science, Andrew Thompson, said the tool enables producers to put a dollar value on joining ewe lambs within their flock.

“Joining ewe lambs is not something for everyone – current adoption levels are around 5 per cent in Merino and 30 per cent in maternal flocks. Whether it’s actually cost-effective to do will vary from farm to farm and season to season,” Andrew said.

“It does give you more lambs to sell, but you’ve got to keep an eye on costs.”

Double the decision support

The tool has three separate functions to support decision making around joining ewe lambs at each step of the journey – all starting with whether a producer should join ewe lambs in the first place.

Helps producers decide if they should join ewe lambs: Producers can enter details such as number of lambs weaned from their adult and hogget ewes and commodity prices, and the tool will advise if ewe lamb joining is something they should consider.

Helps producers who have been joining for a while boost their results: Producers can enter information and current targets around seven key factors identified to influence the performance of ewe lambs, such as the liveweight and age of the animal when mated.

The tool then provides the producer with a dollar figure estimate of how much extra they could make by shifting their management of specific factors towards what the tool has modelled as the optimum for their specific operating environment.

Helps inform tactical decision making and enables producers to optimise their management of ewe lambs based on the conditions of that specific season.

Keeping it specific

With a complex range of factors affecting ewe lamb performance when joined, the tool uses a unique method to provide the specific, tailored advice producers need to drive productivity gains.

“What’s so innovative about this tool is that we have integrated whole farm economic modelling with machine learning,” Andrew said.

“This means we can provide advice that’s much more than generic advice – it’s actually specific to the scenario of the individual producer using the tool.”

According to co-founder and Director of neXtgen Agri, Mark Ferguson, the tool’s use of machine learning will allow it to provide cost-benefit analysis and optimum management strategies for more than 500 million possible scenarios.

“The beauty of machine learning is that we can enter 2500 farm system scenarios into the tool and then it trains the algorithm to fill in the gaps between the scenarios – so it can model something very similar to your scenario in just a fraction of a second,” Mark said.

“It allows you to weigh up all the ‘what ifs’ with more precision than just doing a few numbers on the back of an envelope.”

Time to talk

Before making the decision to join their ewe lambs, neXtgen Agri’s Mark Ferguson recommends producers make sure of the tools and support already available to maximise the success of their breeding season.

“Even if it looks profitable on paper to do, there’s a few things you need to do well when joining ewe lambs. I encourage producers to talk to a consultant, join the Towards 90 (T90) Program or talk to someone who’s already joining their ewe lambs to learn a few tricks,” he said.

You can access the tool here:

Watch videos on how to use the tool here: