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By Eduard Dinger, sheep farmer, ram breeder and current member of the Northern Regional Sheep council.
- Mating hoggets can be quite profitable if done properly, but it has severe pitfalls which have be taken care off.
- Farm advisers/consultants and researchers are questioning why only about a third of farmers mate their hoggets.
- The answer is easy. It’s damn hard and unless thoroughly prepared, it’s doomed to failure with stunted ewes and the best-potential ewes fading away.
- In the late seventies under guidance of Whatawhata Research Station 12 farmers participated in a trial with mated hoggets.
- Most were ram breeders and on Sheeplan.
- Monitoring weight was an important part of the procedure. The trial lasted for three years. At a Sheeplan conference several years later, only three farmers were still mating their hoggets.
- Why? Most found that with low lamb prices at the time it was not worth the effort. Too many lambs died at birth, too many potential good ewes disappeared because they were mated as hoggets.
- Now with good prices for lambs everybody wants to start hogget mating without realizing how well prepared they need to be.
- The farmer has to be ready to drop his intention to mate his hoggets at any time if conditions change eg., spore counts are high enough to cause sub clinical Facial Eczema, dry autumn, not enough winter feed, etc.
- If mating has already happened the farmer will have to be prepared to buy in winter feed or drop his stocking rate if a shortage of feed is looming.
- Hoggets that produce twins need special attention and possibly extra hard feed (high protein diet) in order to survive.
- Remember that hoggets are the future breeding ewes, and if the job has been done right, these replacements are genetically better than the older ewes.
- Lambs out of hoggets have to be weaned as early as possible (15 to 18kg) to give the hogget time to recover and grow before mating again.
- Over the years I have maybe sometimes used weak excuses not to mate my hoggets because of the bad experiences in previous years. Not enough tolerance for FE possibly the main cause (and I dare say that the sub clinical effects of FE is still not understood by a majority of farmers in our region), but the lack of understanding of feed requirements are also an important factor.
- Hoggets are still growing themselves and have lambs growing inside them that grab what is needed for so long as it’s available. There can be no impediments to health or growth requirements of the ewe hogget, because otherwise the result could be very bad indeed.
- What I am most scared of is the apparent good results from hogget mating with the help of Androvax.
- Please note that Androvax has NOT been licensed for use on hoggets. It is licensed for use on older ewes only and if you use it on hoggets, this is classed as off-label use and you have no comeback on manufacturers if things go wrong. It is not known what the effect of Androvax will be on the ewe lamb’s reproductive system, since the first injection of Androvax would take place eight weeks before mating and the lamb is still immature.
- Things will go wrong with crossbreds where a percentage of those twinning hoggets will not cope and disappear. What would you rather have, a live hogget or a hogget that has had twins but then dies from stress trying to rear them?
- The farmer with 400 ewe hogget replacements won’t notice that say 20% of these as ewes (that twinned as hoggets) will not repeat their performance (unless these ewes were tagged and recorded).
- If my reaction looks like paranoia, maybe it is. I have made all the above mistakes over the years and it took me a long time to connect the feeding aspect of all this. The ewe hogget with lambs would need the same level of feeding as a ewe with triplets. With better knowledge and with proper instruction and warnings, hoggets can be mated successfully but Androvax has no place in the equation.
- Androvax use on hoggets of the high fertility breeds is highly irresponsible. It should not be used on any breed of hogget.
- Most likely, a good proportion of the triplets will die because of their size (lambs out of hoggets are born with lower birth weights) but a twin out of a hogget has a good chance of survival if the conditions are right.
- Unless special precautions are taken to keep the twinning hogget growing and in milk at the same time, the hogget will remain stunted and either fade away or remain dry or is unlikely to repeat her good performance.
- The animal health aspect of all this should also not be overlooked. As farmers we will come under increasing pressure from the Animal Health Lobby and I think it is the task of us all to think of this in relation to hogget mating.
Eduard Dinger is a sheep farmer and breeder from Whitehall, Cambridge.