Hogget lambing is regularly promoted as a way to increase income, but results have been variable in the past. Current interest is driven by a need to improve income, greater availability of high fertility sheep, wider knowledge of better feeding management, and availability of pregnancy scanning.

Hogget lambing must be incorporated into the total farm business, and this requires clear management decisions. It’s not a way to produce a "bonus" lamb crop, and full costs and returns must be considered.

Obvious benefits
  • Extra lambs for sale.
  • Hoggets that lamb produce more total lambs over their lifetime.
  • Lambed hoggets are superior mothers as 2-tooths.
  • They will be superior flock replacements and will increase genetic gain.
Limitations to consider
  • Extra feed needed from weaning of the hogget, to weaning of her lamb/lambs.
  • Lambing and weaning performance can be variable.
  • Barren hoggets will need separate management.
  • Higher mortality in the hoggets’ lambs.
  • Lower twinning rate.
  • Hoggets are mated later so lamb later. This will extend lambing.
  • Lambing hoggets produce less wool - about 0.3-0.5kg as 2-tooths, and 1.4kg over their lifetime.
  • Progeny from hoggets are smaller which will limit their future potential.
  • More rams are needed for mating hoggets (2% more).

A business analysis is essential to consider these limitations to hogget lambing and see how the practice will affect total farm profit. The variable lambing percentage, barren hoggets, and high lamb mortality are mainly a result of feeding and season.

Lambs out of hoggets carry a large maternal environmental burden, and consequently they stand a high risk of being culled from the flock on size and body weight. They have little chance of reaching targets to be mated themselves as hoggets.

Key points for success
Mating weight:
  • Hoggets should be at least 35kg at mating. Thus hoggets for mating should themselves be at least 20kg at weaning (100 days) with an average of 24-25 kg at weaning being a good target. Post-weaning growth should not be restricted so that hoggets reach the accepted 2-tooth mating weight for the flock.
  • Depending on the district, good targets weights for mated hoggets should be 35kg at mating in May, 40kg in September, 55kg in December and 60kg at 2-tooth mating.
  • Weight is usually the limiting factor to start hoggets cycling (reaching puberty), and in the past, turning rams out with all the hoggets was a safe enough practice as only the heaviest would take the ram.
  • But with today’s high-fertility breeds and crosses reach puberty at much lighter weights, so it’s important to draft hoggets on liveweight (35kg minimum) before joining with the ram.
Feeding to achieve mating weights:
  • The main cost in lambing hoggets is the extra feed needed to reach satisfactory target weights to ensure good performance. Where soil fertility is low or management poor, then hogget lambing will be an economic failure.
  • To achieve the required growth targets, feed hoggets to allow growth of above 100g/day, and preferably nearer 130g/day. This is 0.7 to 0.9kg/week.
  • Before and during mating to get a flushing effect, hoggets will need to gain 70-140g/day or 0.5 - 1.0kg/week. This requires green leafy pasture, 3-4cm long providing 1300kg DM/ha. So after dry summers and poor autumns when target weights cannot be achieved, don’t mate hoggets as you’ll condemn them to a lifetime of poor performance.
Mating

Mating should be for one cycle and not exceed 21 days. Use 2% of fit experienced rams which means avoiding ram hoggets or 2-tooths. Use of terminal sires is recommended as their lambs have higher survival and growth rates.

Run hogget mating mobs on flatter paddocks, separated from older ewes. Hoggets can benefit from teasing with vascetomised rams for 3 weeks prior to entire ram joining. If teasers are not available, run in well-fenced paddocks next to entire rams.

Scanning

This allows pregnant hoggets and those carrying twins to be identified for extra feeding and care. Feeding levels allowing more than 100g/day need to be maintained during pregnancy. In the 2-3 weeks prior to lambing, control feeding levels to avoid large lambs from single-bearing hoggets.

Lambing

Hoggets are best left alone at lambing. They are generally good mothers and disturbance will only lead to mis-mothering and lamb mortality.

Feeding lactating hoggets

Hoggets suckling lambs need special feeding and management, and the key is to avoid competition from other stock. Ideal pasture feed is 5cm long providing 1500kg DM/ha and certainly not grazing down below 1300kg DM/ha.

Weaning hoggets’ lambs

Be flexible when deciding when to wean hoggets’ lambs. If feeding levels cannot be sustained, then wean the lambs. Aim generally to wean as early as possible at a minimum of 15kg or at 8 weeks of age. Weight is a better criterion than age.

Recognise that these hoggets’ lambs will again need special management if they are to be offered for sale or kept as flock replacements.

Animal health

Achieving performance targets requires an animal health programme covering internal and external parasites, vaccinations and blood profiles for mineral deficiencies. Slow-release rumen treatments for internal parasites are beneficial. Dipping or pour-on treatment for parasites should be avoided during and immediately after mating.

Effect on overall stocking rate

Traditionally ewe hoggets have been classed as 0.9 ewe equivalents (EE), but this will need revising if they are going to be mated. It would be safer to consider hogget feeding needs as closer to 1.2 EE or even more, to make sure the operation is successful.

Conclusions
  • Hogget lambing can be profitable if complete farm business implications are considered.
  • Feed production and utilisation is the key factor.
  • Decisions and plans should be made in December-January each year.
  • Farms which are permanently overstocked should not consider hogget lambing.
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