As President of WoolProducers, I thought I would take the opportunity to provide an overview of the management of my sheep in an exceptionally wet year on our property, ‘Werong’, in Yass, NSW. I’m a fourth-generation wool producer, running a 7,000 head super-fine merino flock along with my wife, Nikki and our three children.
A very wet season in the Southern Tablelands of NSW over the past two and a half years has led to great growth in the pastures, but also several issues that have required much more management than in a normal year.
For those in a non-Winter rainfall areas, I hope you find this interesting, but in general it’s important to promote the preventative animal health and welfare interventions that we provide our sheep. We as growers, do these things on a daily basis without giving it much thought as the welfare of animals is our top priority, however it also demonstrates to those that aren’t aware, or those that have an anti-livestock production agenda, that we do everything we can to ensure that good outcomes for our animals is at the heart of everything we do.
The blowfly attacks on our sheep have ceased now the weather is cold, however the worm burdens have required constant monitoring. The main worm burden has come from Barbers Pole Worm and we are about to administer an additional drench in July, following testing, as an interim measure to reduce the burdens on the pastures for lambing. We will then give a combination of long-acting products to get the ewes and newborn lambs safely through their first couple of months of life to ensure they get the best start they possibly can. Further, we have sprayed out a paddock and are preparing to sow a summer fodder brassica crop to provide a high quality grazing paddock for when we wean the lambs in December.
All this is in addition to the pre-lambing vaccine for clostridial diseases such as pulpy kidney that we need to administer and a pre-lambing crutch to both ensure the newborn lamb gets good access to the udder when they are born and to reduce flystrike risk as the spring warms up. The ability of the long-acting preventative chemicals to provide several months of protection against flies is not as good anymore, so we need to use other tools, such as strategic crutching, to help us reduce risk.
All of the above needs to be done without posing too much of a challenge to the ewes’ feet. In a season like this the more often you bring heavily-in-lamb ewes into the yards the more risk you have of an explosion of foot abscess and then further troubles as the ewes struggle to get around the paddock and get enough nutrition, which in turn runs the risk of developing pregnancy toxaemia where both the ewe and the lamb can be lost.
To manage this issue, we are preparing to have a foot bath with zinc sulphate to clean the ewes feet as they leave the yards and trying to arrange crutching, vaccinating and drenching at the one time so as not to run them through the yards more than once. The ewes’ feet are all good at the moment but are soft and more susceptible to infection after the prolonged wet season in the region.
As well, we are going to be scanning our ewes shortly to separate those that are not in lamb, those with single foetuses and those with multiple foetuses. This will enable them to be placed in paddocks for lambing to best advantage. Those with multiples need more feed than the single bearing ewes and the dry ones can be run a bit harder with less feed. The purpose here is to ensure the health and welfare of the ewes is as good as it can be.
Managing lamb size at birth, worm burden, disease prevention, overall sheep health and nutritional requirements are all part of our daily jobs as managers of sheep flock. The productive capacity of the flock is inextricably linked to the health and welfare outcomes we provide. On top of all that we need to ensure we have the staff organised to ensure all these procedures are able to be completed in a timely manner and done well. It all needs to happen before the end of July as we like to have the ewes in their lambing paddocks at least 10 days before lambing starts, which this year is due on the 15th of August. Further, we need to ensure all the products we need are available and ordered well in advance as we know supply chains around the world are clogged up. Then, we need to crutch the rams, pair their feet and start to ensure they are healthy in the lead up to joining next year in March. It goes on…
So, plenty going on with the sheep flock in July at Werong. A key time of the year, because if we get in wrong in the pre-lambing preparation, it can take the rest of the year to sort out the problems. But it presents us with a great opportunity to set ourselves up for a wonderful year!