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Published: 24 Jan 2019

A new Tasmanian sheep study seeks to find out the most productive pathway for castrated Merino male lambs – known as wethers.  

Lauren Rowlands is figuring out which kind of pasture will produce the best meat and wool through her agricultural science honours research at the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA).

“I’m figuring out which pasture diet is best for the wethers’ production of meat and wool,” Ms Rowlands said.

“Is it irrigated Lucerne and Clover, or non-irrigated dryland pasture?”

The research trial is being done at Stockman Stud in the Southern Midlands, owned by sheep farmer Andrew McShane.

“This research will help us decide the most productive pathway for the wethers and how best to feed them,” Mr McShane said.

“There’s an expansion of irrigation in the Southern Midlands and it’s presumed that feeding irrigated Lucerne and Clover to wethers is the expensive option, despite the fast weight gains.  

“Farmers here want to know if this is really the case and which option is the better business decision,” he said.

So, what does the research entail?

“A total of 100 wethers are in the trial – 50 on irrigated pasture and 50 on dryland pasture, supplemented with Faba bean,” Ms Rowlands said.

“Both groups are out on the pasture in bigger mobs, representative of commercial-sized flocks which are in the thousands.

“The wethers remain in these systems from weaning until shearing,” she said.

This summer Ms Rowlands is measuring the wethers’ liveweights, taking faecal samples to check gastrointestinal health and taking mid-side fleece samples.

“All this information will help us figure out if the wethers are producing more wool or meat, or both,” she said.  

“I’m also taking pasture samples and analysing the composition of grass species.

“A mixture of grass species tends to grow in dryland pastures, whereas this irrigated pasture consists of a Lucerne and Clover mix.

“These two systems offer different nutrition and amounts of food for the wethers,” she said.

Ms Rowlands will take her final samples in April, when the sheep will be shorn, and fleece weighed.

“In the meantime, we are taking fleece samples, which get measured and quality tested,” she said.

Ms Rowlands’ industry-focused research idea won her an Undergraduate Project Scholarship from the Australian Wool Education Trust (Woolwise).

She said developing this research project was influenced by her experience at last year’s National Merino Challenge.

Ms Rowlands was part of the winning team made up of TIA students, and she was also awarded Tertiary Overall Champion at the event.

“The two days of mini-challenges really tested my knowledge of Merino fleece, how it’s produced, and even sheep breeding,” she said.

“We learned about the tools out there that help sheep farmers make decisions for producing high quality Merino wool.

“The experience opened my eyes to research and career opportunities in the Australian wool industry.”

This article appeared in The Examiner and The Advocate on 24 January 2019.

Find out about Lauren's other achievements