John Thistleton September 10, 2012
A one day old lamb tries to keep warm at Craig Starr's Gold Street Station in Hall. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Farmers love fat mothers.
Wet summers with plenty of green grass have fattened ewes, which has led to higher numbers of lambs this spring, according to the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
''The higher the fat cover, the higher percentage of twins,'' spokesman Phil Graham said.
Near-naked mothers can be useful too, even in the grip of a winter as savage as the one just passed.
The reason why may solve a mystery for non-farmers who see and wonder why freshly shorn merino sheep huddled together with crying lambs have their wool removed.
Hall grazier Craig Starr concedes merino sheep can grow weak at the end of tough winters and lambing drains them even more.
But if they have a heavy woollen coat on they may not get up off the ground and onto their feet.
''If a lamb is born [in a chill] and the ewe has not got her wool on, she'll find a warm spot in the paddock. If she has a lot of wool on, she will stand out in the paddock in a blizzard and that lamb could die.
''They don't seem to work that out, as if 'I'm all right, bugger the lamb'.''
Mr Starr attempted to delay shearing this year until November, but his contractor from Crookwell could not help, having been booked well ahead for flocks of 30,000 and 40,000 at big sheds at Yass and Goulburn.
Frosts this winter have been more savage and frequent, yet Mr Starr lost more lambs last year when a sudden cold snap claimed between 30 and 40.
Mr Graham said a frosty night was not the biggest worry for a newborn lamb.
''It doesn't matter if it is minus 5 or minus 6, that is not going to worry it. It's cold but it is not going to cause death,'' Mr Graham, a technical specialist in grazing, said.
''It's the combination of wind, rain and cold weather and when the fronts have come through this year they haven't actually had that much rain.
''If [a front] lasts for 12 hours or longer that's when it really starts having an effect.''
Changing breeding cycles to avoid spring's chill was not simple, because farmers had to make sure lactating ewes had plenty of feed, plus good pasture for when lambs were weaned.
''You are playing a pretty fine game. Quite frankly in this type of environment lambing in August and early September is the best bet taking account of all those factors.''
Breadalbane grazier Neil Granger's cross-bred lambs are heavier than merinos and cope better in cold weather. His biggest problem has been deteriorating pastures left after three months of exceptionally cold temperatures.
''You can drive around your paddocks and see 100mm of feed and think there's plenty, but you can't see the quality of it.
''Poor nutrition in pasture makes it tougher on the mothers. It hits the lambs when they are a few weeks old if there's wet weather.''