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Beyond the Bale : June 2016
ON FARM 29 their fertility are the profit drivers for the business and so I focus on them.” To do that, Ruth sells the wether lambs early – generally in December – and culls the ewe hoggets pretty heavily, which gives her more flexibility in selling old or young ewes. “I usually keep sound-mouthed 5.5 year old ewes as part of the breeding flock, which allows me to cull the hoggets by about a third, and young ewes always sell well. “I then sell all the 6.5 year old ewes, in two lines – sound mouth and cast for age. The sound mouths generally go to another grazier to rear a cross-bred lamb. “There’s also a line of mixed age culls made up of anything I’ve taken a dislike to during the year – including ewes that haven’t reared a lamb (as determined at weaning time). “I pregnancy scan, and anything not in lamb gets no second chances.” Most sales are off-shears in late November or December. In a dry year, the dry ewes are sold much earlier (this year, in April) – to leave more room for the productive ewes. Ruth’s ewes lamb in June/July, which again is against the district norm of April/May. She says each of these times has its pros and cons. “April/May is better weather for lambing, but has the heavily pregnant ewes needing nutrition in February/March when we can never expect any decent feed. So while June/ July will always have some poor lambing weather, the ewes are heavily pregnant later when in a year with an early break we might have some feed. This year has not been one of those early breaks unfortunately!” Ruth usually supplementary feeds for a few weeks, but aims for as short a time as possible. In addition to supplementary feeding hay and grain, Ruth makes licks consisting of salt, lime and magnesium with the aim of building up their calcium for bone and milk, and magnesium for muscle function, before they drop the lambs. LIFETIME EWE MANAGEMENT To learn more about how to proactively manage the nutrition of her ewe flock through the reproduction cycle, Ruth has undertaken a Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) course with other producers in the region, as part of a group led by Daniel Schuppan of Landmark at Jamestown. The LTEM course, supported by AWI, provides materials and develops skills to help sheep producers improve sheep nutrition, lambing percentages and weaning rates. “Doing the course helped me appreciate the importance of keeping up the nutrition and condition of the ewe all year through, and since doing the course I have tried to focus more on that, especially in the lead-up to lambing. “I condition score the ewes when they’re in the yards now, and while I couldn’t necessarily tell you if they’re a 3.3 or a 3.4, I can certainly tell if I can feel a bit much bone and they need more feed. “I also attempt to give the twin-bearers better feed in the lead-up to lambing.” The result of this focus on nutrition is easier lambing and improved lamb survival. “I used to be content with 85- 90% lambing (of ewes mated) as a long-term average. Then in 2013 when I took the eye off the ball in the lead up to lambing, it was only 72%. “Concentrating more on ewe nutrition since doing the LTEM course has led to a return to 90% again in 2014 and a further lift to 102% in 2015. And I am sure there is more potential yet! 2015 was the first year I have ever run out of the appropriate eartags at marking time.” BENCHMARKING Ruth has also been a member of a benchmarking group run by Daniel Schuppan. “As with the LTEM group, it’s good just to get sheep producers together and discuss common problems,” Ruth said. “Generally I am pretty happy with my gross margin. For two years running, my figures have been $46 per dry sheep equivalent. In comparison with other group members, Ruth spends less time working with the sheep during the year and has a higher labour bill at the times when she has to employ contractors, such as for shearing, crutching, lamb marking and pregnancy scanning. “The benchmarking course has helped me realise that in order to make money, you’ve got to spend some. I had run a cost-minimal enterprise, but minimum cost is not always best profit – this has particularly applied to growing feed for the sheep.” PASTURES AND GRAZING Much of the country on the property is very open, with no natural trees, which leaves the sheep exposed, so Ruth aims – subject to paddocks in crop – to select paddocks for lambing that have a bit more undulation and hence natural protection. She has also started a long-term project of establishing multi-row windbreaks. Ruth rotationally grazes for most of the year, by running big mobs of ewes (up to 1,000 head) for short times in paddocks of varying sizes, including some grazing-only blocks which she has subdivided into smaller paddocks. “In this way, I think the usage of pasture is more thorough, and each paddock gets a longer spell before being grazed again. I find having less mobs makes day to day management easier, as there are fewer mobs – and troughs – to check. It does mean the mobs are bigger when they need to be handled, but I have got used to that. “However the bigger mobs are not ideal for lambing, as the mobs are too big to last in one paddock for the five-week lambing period; they can’t be forcibly moved; and moving by drifting is sometimes not completely successful. I usually have three mobs of ewes for lambing, and this year I will try making it five mobs, each of 200-250.” The Lifetime Ewe Management course encourages producers to assess the amount of feed available, and check that it matches the needs of the sheep. Doing the course helped Ruth take more notice of her pastures. She says that rotational grazing allows her to stay in tune with pasture condition better as she is looking at it more often. One of Ruth’s interests is encouraging the remnant native vegetation (grasses and forbs) she has on parts of the property. “The perennial species take whatever the seasons throw at them, without fertiliser, hanging on in poor years and thriving with a bit of summer rain whereas summer rain only produces rubbish in the cropped paddocks. And the sheep really seem to enjoy the variety!” SHEARING AND OTHER MANAGEMENT PRACTICES All Ruth’s sheep are shorn in early to mid- November because that’s when the shearers are available. “It is not an ideal time, as grass-seeds have formed by then, and spring weather can leave sheep prone to a few flies. However I manage the seeds by taking the sheep off untreated paddocks just as barley grass or wild geranium seeds are threatening to get into the wool. I put them on hay-frozen paddocks, or standing crops or lucerne if I’ve controlled the weeds well enough. “But then when the sheep have been shorn they can go on untreated paddocks again, and by the time they have much wool, the seeds have dropped. The wool always tests at less than 1% vegetable matter, so the strategy works, even though it’s a challenge!” She says having bare-shorn sheep at the start of summer is good fly prevention for the remainder of summer/early autumn. “I generally do a pre-shearing crutch a month or so before shearing which prevents breech strike, and I have begun to jet the lambs as they’re weaned in September as they did tend to get either breech or body strike given a bit of rain in October or November.” Worms are not much of an issue on the property. “I always collect faecal samples for testing before I drench, and only occasionally have to drench. It’s a great saving in both money and effort!”
In the Shops - September 2016