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Beyond the Bale : Dec 08 - Jan 09
8 Managing flystrike BEYOND THE BALE Lindsay Young with his plain- bodied pure Merino rams. BREECH STRIKE RISK MANAGEMENT BREEDING OBJECTIVES l Plain-bodied sheep – minimal wrinkle l Maximum staple length and fibre density l Minimal dag scores l Good frame size STOCK MANAGEMENT l All sheep performance measured at 11 to 12 months for body and fleece weight, fibre diameter, yield, eye muscle length, fat depth. Rams also measured for faecal egg count and scrotal circumference Lewisham (Northern Midlands) l Shearing in March l Crutching of ewes pre-lamb; ewes and hoggets crutched December-January; mature wethers crutched November (if required) l Chemical jetting of lambs at weaning. One- year-old ewes and wethers only jetted if high risk Green Valley (Hamilton) l Shearing in August l Crutching of all sheep in February; hoggets crutched in July l Chemical jetting of lambs in December; ewes jetted in December only if high risk Good management means close attention to animal health PHOTO: MELISSA MARINO Case study 2 Lindsay Young says it was a revelation when he stopped mulesing in 2004. Less than a decade after shifting to a plain-bodied Merino breeding program, he found the health of his sheep was unaffected by ceasing mulesing. “We didn’t get any more flystrike than when we mulesed,” he says. Lindsay and his wife Rae already had a system in place to carefully track flystrike risk in their flock of 12,000 Merinos run over two properties in Tasmania’s south and midlands – a flock that has had to be cut to 8000 due to drought. “We had a management program and we monitor our sheep regularly, so if you get a year when sheep are more susceptible to flies we get them in and jet them and that’s always been the case – even when we mulesed. And we had always jetted our lambs at weaning anyway, so we just kept doing that.” Eliminating mulesing has not meant the Youngs have had to do anything significantly different from what they were doing before. “Once we had plain-bodied sheep, mulesing didn’t make any difference really. I just had to pay more attention,” Lindsay says. “And paying attention to your animals has got to be a good thing,” Rae says. Lindsay argues that mulesing has been used as a panacea for poor breeding decisions, for example in breeding sheep that do not suit the environment. But, he says, it has been a remarkably quick transformation to establish a more plain-bodied flock. “You can make huge differences in one generation if you have the right sheep and if you bring in sheep from outside rather than relying on your own gene pool,” he says. The Youngs now have a core flock of rams at their ‘Cingurrin Poll Merino Stud’, which is operated as a member of MERINOSELECT, and offer breeding services to a small clientele also seeking more plain- bodied types. “One hears a lots of negative comments about plain-bodied sheep, such as that they’re low cutting, but we haven’t found that,” Rae says. The Youngs shear in March, because it fits their preferred shearing schedule, and they crutch twice a year – pre-lamb and in December or January – to remove stain and to manage flystrike. Lambs are jetted as a matter of course and ewes only if there is a flystrike risk. “We are more aware of chemical use so we jet to a minimum,” Lindsay says. “We only put a small amount of chemical in the right spot and we don’t put them through automatic jetting races.” From there, Rae says, it is a matter of keeping an eye on the flock. “You can only be in a position to treat them if you’re looking at your sheep,” she says. “If you’re not going to look at them regularly, then you have to plan not to have flystrike.” Rae believes that with plain-bodied sheep it is possible to eliminate mulesing no matter where the farm is located. “It’s about monitoring your sheep and good animal husbandry.” Once a flystruck animal has recovered, it is assessed and, if necessary, culled from the flock. “I think you have to look at a sheep and say, ‘Is it my fault the sheep got struck (through a change of diet, not crutching or inadequate monitoring), or is it a weakness in the sheep?’ And if it’s the sheep’s fault, we cull it and if it’s our fault, we don’t,” Lindsay says. Although they have not yet received a premium for their unmulesed wool, the Youngs do see potential marketing opportunities opening up, similar to those with the European Union Eco-label. However, they do not believe a market advantage should be the motivating factor in their switch, but rather greater awareness of animal welfare issues. More information: Lindsay and Rae Young, 03 6286 3228, firstname.lastname@example.org
February March 2009
Oct - Nov 08