Article Summary: A growing number of farmers are seeing improvements in the marketability of animals, financial returns and farm management through pregnancy scanning their ewes at regular, well-planned intervals. This article lists how you can incorporate pregnancy scanning into your farming efforts and the vast benefits it gives a farm. These include keeping reproductive rates continuously high, the ability to sell dry animals quickly, and early intervention in the case of pregnancy to ensure the best condition and survival rates of lambs.

Sheep farms in Australia are beginning to see the benefits of early pregnancy scanning of ewes. A growing number of farmers are seeing improvements in the marketability of animals, financial returns and farm management. Pregnancy scanning is a valuable tool used to keep fertility rates high in dry times. 

This article is a useful guide if this subject is new to you. Below will show you how, by adding pregnancy scanning to your farm management plan, you’ll be on the road to greater farming efficiency and financial success.

What’s sheep pregnancy scanning?

Sheep pregnancy scanning is a procedure that uses an ultrasound scanner to determine the pregnancy status of ewes. It is typically performed around 90 days after mating and is done by a trained operator. Pregnancy scanning is important for understanding your lambing season's potential and efficiently managing your ewe flock.

In addition to determining whether or not an ewe is pregnant, you can also scan for multiple fetuses to determine litter size. This information is useful for accurate feed budgeting and understanding the potential lambing in a given season. 

How can I incorporate pregnancy scanning into my farming during dry times?

  1. Scan all your ewes in your flock to determine which animals are pregnant.

  2. Separate all your dry ewes out of the mob to eliminate the chance of competition with lambing ewes.

  3. Give the lambing ewes the highest-quality feed in the lead-up to and after the lambing. This will ensure optimum body condition and birth success rate, plus it gives her lamb/s the best chance to thrive.

  4. Feed the dry ewes feed of lesser quality, and place them on pastures in poorer condition while maintaining satisfactory body condition. 

  5. Mate the dry ewes early again, keeping reproductive rates continuously high and in sync, then move them based on successive rounds of pregnancy scanning. Or, you can:

  6. Sell dry ewes more quickly if you know they are not lambing, bringing you swift financial gains as a result.

How can pregnancy scanning ewes help my farm in dry times?

The benefits of incorporating pregnancy scanning in managing your sheep farm are vast.

  • You’ll keep reproductive rates continuously high. 

  • You’ll see a greater lamb survival rate through the early intervention scanning will give you.

  • You’ll keep your lambing cycles in sync.

  • You’ll be better organised and able to make forecasts of lambing percentages through your data.

  • You’ll take pressure off pastures by conserving higher-quality areas and selling off dry animals sooner.

  • You’ll spread your lambing risk if you stagger your lambings carefully in conjunction with a pregnancy scanning system.

  • You’ll get more lambs on the ground in drier times.

  • You’ll know which lambs need to be culled sooner and may be able to sell fertile, dry ewes, useful to other breeders and commanding a higher price.

  • You’ll find ewes with multiple lambs early on in their gestation. This means you can quickly feed these ewes expecting multiples with the appropriate amount of nutrients to help them through lambing and directly after, giving the lambs the best chance of survival.

Are there tools available to compare my flock’s results against others?

Some states and territories have their own tools; in Western Australia, the Pregnancy Scanning Benchmarks Tool is a resource to help you understand how your flock's scanning results compare to others in the region. 

The tool includes data from approximately 1.3 million ewe scans from 2016 to 2022. The reproductive rate, calculated using the pregnancy scanning data for litter size, is a measure of fertility and virility and can be used to determine factors such as supplementary feeding and stocking rates for lambing and genetic selection for reproductive traits. 

Conversely, the conception rate is usually expressed as the number of pregnant ewes divided by the number of ewes joined, giving you a measure of fertility. Factors that can influence the reproductive rate include the breed of ewe, her nutritional status at mating, the success of mating (ram performance), the timing of mating, and whether it occurs during the normal breeding season.

What considerations are there when scanning ewes for pregnancy?

Like any system, there are some things you need to remember and plan for if you are going to adopt it for your day-to-day operations and want an accurate result.

  • Book your scanning in for the correct dates after mating. 

    • If a fetus is too large (over 80 days), there is the potential for too many complications in determining the correct number of lambs.

    • If a fetus is too small, the scanner will not pick up the reading, either.

  • It’s recommended to keep ewes without feed and water for eight hours before the scanning for greater accuracy.

  • Try to conduct scanning in a paddock with easy access and ensure a steady, flowing movement of animals. Less kicking around also means increased accuracy with pregnancy readings if the ewes are calm.

There are seasonal, experienced scanners available in your region that you can contact and have come to your farm to assist you in the pregnancy scanning process. It is an investment, but with so many benefits to you as a farmer, it really is worth pursuing. After all, you want every season to be a success.

Otherwise, why bother farming?

By incorporating pregnancy scanning of ewes into the management of your flock, you’ll see great fertility, body condition, survival rates and financial returns than if you don’t.

- The Dedicated Team of, 2022-12-20