About a third of Australia's national ewe base don't rear a lamb and are nothing more than "glorified wethers" and producers looking for answers should stand in front of a mirror.
Victorian-based consultant and farmer, Jason Trompf, says improving lamb survival is an urgent challenge all producers need to tackle.
Speaking on a webinar organised by Sheep Connect NSW, Dr Trompf said Australia's smallest sheep flock since 1904 and a forecast 22 per cent nosedive in mutton production this year presented a "huge" opportunity for Merino producers.
The world had developed an insatiable appetite for our sheepmeat at a time when our sheep numbers had been slashed by drought
He said the sheep producers who would win in 2020 were the ones who could sustain turn-off rates and have sheep to sell when prices were high and at same time could grow or at least maintain their existing flock base.
The tools were available to get more lambs on the ground but most growers were still ignoring them or not properly using them, he said.
Those tools - pregnancy scanning, body condition scoring and targeted nutrition - were the keys to quickly boosting flock numbers and sheep profits.
Dr Trompf said plenty of Merino flock owners were now earning more than half their income from livestock trading profits so high reproduction was now as important to them as non-Merino flocks.
All sheep producers should preg scan for multiples and condition score at the same time so the two results could be used to immediately start targeting available feed resources to ensure the multiple-bearing ewes were in the right condition to produce the maximum number of lambs.
"The vast majority of lamb loss is coming through a lack of tailored nutrition to the ewes leading to lamb loss and mis-mothering," he said. .
"The next biggest cause of lamb loss is dystocia (difficult lambing) due to excessive nutrition."
As well, a lamb's survivability and lifetime performance could be compromised depending on how "it's fed in mum's tummy", Dr Trompf said.
Birthweight was a huge driver of a lamb's likelihood to survive.
"When they are too light, say less than 4kg, it really compromises their likelihood to live.
"We need them about seven or eight per cent of the standard reference weight of the ewe.
"In say 50kg ewes, 8pc of that is 4kg, when you come under that survival really drops.
"The two core times you need to be (body) scoring a lot of your ewes is at mid-pregnancy to prepare for lambing and at weaning to prepare (ewes) for next year's joining.
"You need to understand what the ewe has got on board - nought, one, two or three foetuses.
"Currently only 25pc of producers are scanning for multiples, and, of that, only about 80pc of them are allocating energy resources based on the animal's requirements.
"So you put those two numbers together, it means only about 20pc of the ewes are managed or (feed) tailored to their nutritional requirements. That's the big opportunity," he said.
"Your ewes are worth $200 to $300 a piece and without putting these discipline practices in place you are leaving the outcome to chance, leaving her likelihood to survive (lambing) to herself."
The national ewe breeding flock was now made up of about two-thirds Merinos and one third non-Merinos.
On average ewes are scanning around 130 foetuses per 100 ewes. Average lamb marking rates were now 90pc, so 40 lambs were now being lost per 100 ewes, he said.
Dr Trompf said producers should be aiming to lift the current survival rate of singles from 80 to 95 and the twins from 60 to 80, a target that some leading farms were already achieving.
"Do that and you more than halve your lamb loss (30pc down to 12pc)," he said.
"We have big-scale flocks now getting that lamb loss down to about 10pc of the foetuses originally conceived.
"In Merinos there is not a lot to be gained from having heavier and heavier single-bearing ewes but there there is lots to be gained from improving the condition of twin-bearing ewes.
"The optimum is to have the twins to lamb down at least a third of a condition score higher than the singles.
"And the only way you can do that is to target this (feed) resource allocation right back at scanning.
"We want the single-bearing ewe to lamb down at around 3 score and the the twins around 3.3 and 3.5."
Lamb survival in both single and multiple-bearing ewes could also be improved by lambing them down in small mobs.
With every l00 ewes less in a mob, marking rates lifted about 5pc in twins with smaller gains in singles.
Dr Trompf said producers should prioritise twin lambers to smaller paddocks with plenty of shelter and privacy for the ewes.
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