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Beyond the Bale : June 2013
41 on-farm June 2013 BeYoNd the BaLe matcHIng energY DemanD anD feeD sUPPLY Graham sees many producers lured by the promises of autumn lambing at the detriment of efficiency. “In southern production systems, autumn lambing can expose the business to greater risks, requires significant supplementary feeding and works against the natural system of energy demand and supply,” he explains. “Spring lambing matches demands of both lactating ewes and growing lambs, reducing the need for labour-intensive and costly feeding. “Pregnant ewes can be treated for flies pre-lambing, to avoid labour-intensive crutching, providing breech strike protection for up to six months, over the high risk flystrike period. “Marking during spring has a higher potential for good weather and lower impact on growing stock.” WortHWHILe InVestments In addition to timing of operations, Graham suggests that a few investments show potential for increased returns. “The benefits of well-designed and constructed fencing, laneways and bugle yards have an enormous effect on efficiency,” Graham said. “And don’t underestimate the value of a good dog that can work sheep well in these systems.” Other capital investments proving their worth are raised boards, auto- drafters, crutching cradles and electronic identification systems (EIDs). “Research data suggests that raised boards can increase output by up to seven per cent and a self-pinning press can increase output by up to 11 per cent. “An auto-drafter can have a significant impact in lambing operations for both prime lamb and Merino producers. Running stock in groups of similar weight can significantly reduce feeding and labour costs. It is well understood that 80 per cent of weaner deaths occur in the bottom 20 per cent of the mob. So by accurately identifying, targeting and feeding only this portion, producers can make significant gains in profit and animal welfare and reduce mortalities. “Data on crutching cradles suggests the benefits are both financial and logistical. A crutching cradle allows gains in output – more than 800 animals per day per For most sheep producers, labour is a significant cost to their business. But according to farm consultant and Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) facilitator Graham Lean of SBScibus, savvy producers willing to scrutinise their business can improve labour efficiency by implementing often simple and inexpensive changes. “Our benchmarking figures, and those of DPI Victoria’s Livestock Farm Monitor Project, reveal the average farm runs at about 7500 DSE per person,” Graham says. “But the most efficient operations are running at 10,000–15,000 DSE (including contract labour and full time labour). Analysis of our SBScibus farm benchmarking data shows there can be up to a two per cent increase in return on capital for every 5000 DSE improvement in efficiency.” Most producers have a handle on their direct labour costs according to Graham, but it is often the indirect costs that yield the greatest inefficiencies. “Most people don’t spend enough time evaluating and planning, and find themselves, and their staff, as a result working under less-than-ideal conditions. The result is a greater need for labour, higher levels of frustration and jobs that could be done in a matter of hours end up taking days.” According to Graham, the principles of labour efficiency are fairly standard – design a simple system that works with your resources and not against them. person – and flexibility in terms of timing and the ability to combine crutching with other operations, such as jetting. An added benefit is a smaller crutch, which increases the amount of fleece wool come shearing. The result is profit increases of at least $2-3/ head through reduced costs and increased fleece yield. “Producers can afford to spend $100,000 in capital to save $25,000 on annual labour costs – that’s a 25 per cent return on investment.” fLock strUctUre Graham believes it is worth evaluating current flock structure for potential gains in efficiency and impacts on profit. “Ewe-dominant flocks chasing high meat prices can come at a labour cost,” he said. “Wethers allow more flexibility and less work in a mixed farming system and deliver less pressure during drought or fluctuations in seasonal conditions. “Fewer lambs mean less time for marking, weaning and paddock preparation, while wethers are easily fed and moved between paddocks all year round. Lambs and lactating ewes also add to the worm burden.” Regardless of flock structure, animal health also impacts on efficiency – healthy animals require less work and stress to run. Establishing and maintaining a rigorous animal health program to manage issues such as worms, lice, flies and footrot will reduce labour requirements significantly. notHIng Is sacreD When evaluating operations, Graham reminds producers that nothing should be sacred. “It is really important to not just accept the way things are done as being necessary,” he said. With many producers running mixed enterprises, it is easy to fall into the trap of claiming that livestock are labour-intensive compared with cropping. But average data from the DPI Victoria Livestock Monitor Farm Project for the past 15 years suggests otherwise. Across all farms, the average labour efficiency was 523ha/ person, while cropping sits at 420ha/person. “It’s all about working smarter – not harder,” Graham concludes. fast facts l Objective evaluation and strategic planning by sheep producers can identify opportunities to improve labour efficiency. l Work smarter not harder – use contract labour where possible; syndicate equipment, staff and jobs with neighbours; invest in labour- saving yard designs and handling equipment and combine operations as often as possible. re-evaluate current flock structure; match energy demand with feed supply. l Across all farms, the average labour efficiency was 523ha/person, while cropping sits at 420ha/person. Improving labour eff iciency More information: Graham Lean, SBScibus, (03) 5571 2170, firstname.lastname@example.org