Annual Sheep Husbandry Calendar – a guide for new sheep owners

Some first-time sheep owners have recently purchased some of my Quebon Coloured Sheep lambs. One of my life goals is to support other small-scale producers and hand-crafters that want to grow their livestock enterprise and make the best use of their wool and lamb products. So I am very excited about supporting first-time sheep owners through sharing my own experiences and helping others to establish a small flock like I did 10 years ago.

I was asked to put together a list of annual sheep husbandry activities that need to occur through-out the year. I really had to think about it as in many ways it is highly flexible due to  seasonal conditions and flock structure. No two years are the same. Here is bit of a guide based on my own flock management. What do you do differently? What would you add to the list? (please leave your comments below).

April:

  • Crutch sheep
  • Drench.
  • Joining (late April) – gestation 5 months

September:

  • Shearing early Sept.
  • Vaccinate  ewes with Glanvac6.
  • Drench.
  • Lambing late September (increase ewe’s feed)

November (early):

  • Glanvac6 and Gudair vaccinate lambs.
  • Lamb marking (tails docked and castration)

December:

  • Glanvac6 booster vaccination lambs 4-6 weeks after initial vaccination
  • Ear tag lambs.
  • Summer drench (barbers pole, liver fluke and tape worms) all sheep.
  • Wean lambs

Once off activities:

  • OJD Gudair vaccination – whole flock initially and then new sheep (if not already vaccinated).
  • Lice treatment – for the introduction of new sheep and when lice infestation occurs. Best if treatment and shearing co-inside.
  • Hoof trimming as required (important in wetter climates)
  • Ear Tag: All sheep must have an NLIS PIC tag in their ear before being transported off the property (being sold, being grazed on a different property, going to a sheep show). Replace tags if lost.

Key issues to watch for:

Internal parasites (worms):

Initial physical indicators:

  • Scours and/or worms seen in manure eg tape worm
  • Barbers Pole worms causes bottle-jaw (swelling of the jaw) and anaemia – if on the white of the eye you can’t see the blood vessels this is an indicator of anaemia.
  • Any deaths in the flock not otherwise explained.

Resources: http://www.wormboss.com.au (information about worms, testing and drenches). If you suspect your sheep to have worms, worm test and/or drench them immediately.

Fly-strike:

  • What is fly-strike? Flys lay their eggs in moist and protected areas of the sheep (usually on the hind-quarters/ breech where urine and faeces have stained the wool). When the Maggots hatch they feed off the sheep’s flesh resulting in death of the sheep if not treated quickly (a few days up to a week).
  • Sheep at high risk: sheep in long wool particularly over a humid summer, untreated scours, lambs not tail-docked correctly.
  • Prevention: Fly strike is easily avoided by following good animal husbandry practices in a timely manner, such as lamb marking, crutching and/or shearing for summer.
  • Resources: http://www.flyboss.com.au (information on susceptibility, how to reduce the risk through management and how to treat fly strike outbreaks)
  • Products: Extinosad wound spray (comes in an aerosol can) – useful to treat the one off sheep with fly strike. Click is another good product used by larger scale farmers as a preventative and treatment of fly strike.

Dog attacks: be it the neighbour’s dogs or wild dogs, dog attacks have a devastating effect on your sheep. Call your local vet, Local Land Services biosecurity officer or Council ranger for assistance in dealing with injured sheep and the dogs responsible.

Going away for a couple of weeks?: ensure all your animal husbandry is up to date and you have arranged for someone to check on them weekly.

Sheep books:

A good text on sheep ownership is “Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep” by Paula Simmons and Carol Ekarius. CSIRO and many bookshops stock it.

Any questions let me know. Melissa.

 

Advertisements

Hand feeding livestock

Deciding whether to hand feed livestock or not is a big decision no matter how many animals you have. The reason why it is such a big decision is because hand feeding costs a lot of money and time. As many areas are getting drier, it certainly is time to start putting your drought plan into place.

Questions such as:

  • How any animals can I now carry on my farm given recent rainfall and pasture growth?
  • What agistment options are viable?
  • How much am I willing to spend on hand feeding my livestock?

need to be asked. 

These same questions can also be asked when you are thinking of setting up a livestock enterprise or when you want to expand your herd/flock numbers. 

It is important that you know how far you are willing to go in terms of your investment of time and money, well before the situation becomes critical and stock-prices have fallen due to a flooded market. For some farmers hand-feeding is no longer an option given previous experiences – instead adjusting their stock numbers to match the amount of pasture they have available to them. The money made from sales is then used to purchase new stock when feed (pasture) is available. 

What makes all of the above so difficult is the emotional connection we have to our animals and wanting to do the best thing by them. We also have goals for our livestock enterprise to make genetic progress and to build-up stock numbers – selling animals can be seen as a back-step given all the energy you have already put in.

The point is to have plan in place that respond to climatic and market events: What actions would you take in your best case scenario, your worst scenario and in between. Time, money and natural resources all need to be considered.

My tips for supplement feeding livestock

  • The diet must be balanced with energy, protein and roughage
  • Roughage (such as pasture, hay or chaff) must be a high percentage of diet. (For example my show-sheep and lactating sheep feed on pasture, and grain is mixed 50% grain and 50% chaff on a volume basis 3 times per week.) 
  • Quality hay can be cheaper option providing quality feed when pastures are low
  • Keep volumes consistent. How much do you want each animal to have per feed multiplied by the number of animals
  • Introduce any change in diet gradually ie. Start with a high roughage content. If scouring treat and feed roughage
  • Keep feeding areas clean eg. clean troughs or feed in different areas to prevent disease
  • Mineral blocks are relatively cheap and the easiest way to ensure stock are getting any missing nutrients 100% of the time. Mineral drenches can also be used
  • Access to water 100% of the time

Feeding

Given the opportunity…

In a highly urbanised country we are seeing more and more people ( of all ages) from the city buying land in country areas. Why? Many are looking for a country retreat, others are looking at starting a small farm, and some want to buy land to restore it back to its native state. I’m fortunate to meet people like this every week and I am inspired by their stories.

My concern is that small-scale landowners and absentee landowners are not being supported by their neighbors or by industry. It is these new landowners and hobby farmers that are often blamed for many rural land issues such as the spread of weeds, harboring pest animals and not taking the correct measures when it comes to livestock health.

Too many times I have heard industry professionals say that it is too much effect for too little gain to work with small-scale landowners. “The land area is not worth worrying about. Better focus our effects on the bigger properties. Bigger bang for our buck”.

So too often there is the situation where few want to assist small-scale landowners to adopt best practices and yet they are the first to blame them for rural land issues. I would argue that small-scale landowner do in fact as a collective own an increasingly large portion of land and in most cases are highly intelligent and well meaning people. No matter what the size of the property the same practices need to happen eg. weed and pest control and animal husbandry practices.

So what do we need to do for a win / win?
*Treat all landowners with the same level of respect no matter the size of their properties.
*Extension Officers and Advisors to encourage ALL landowners to follow best practice and provide support as needed.
*Talk with your neighbors about what is happening on your own farm.
*Farm suppliers to sell products in 1L, 5L and 20L packs.
*Get a copy of a Rural Landowner Handbook for your area.

In a time when so many consumers are disconnected from where their food comes from, couldn’t those fortunate to already live and work in country areas embrace new comers, share their land ownership practices and support their neighbors?

What’s happening on the farm?

There are many hats that farmers wear within their businesses. Many of these hats are the same no matter what size your farm and enterprise. These hats include pasture management/ animal nutrition, managing the breeding program of stock, harvesting of your product (eg. shearing), marketing your product to buyers, farm budgeting, fence maintenance, natural resource management and strategic planning for the future.

For my small wool and lamb enterprise, the key success factor and focus is on breeding healthy lambs – so of the other elements of the business fall around the reproductive cycle of the flock. For other farming businesses the focus may be around optimising other activities such as shearing if the wool clip is the main income stream.

At Quebon we choose that our main lambing in September, which gives me the best results. On-selling lambs are our main income source, followed by wool. Below is our annual calendar of activities that aims to give the best success.

January: Wean lambs; Ewes return to ‘maintenance feed’.

February: Lambs can start to be sold. Ram lambs separated into the ram paddock (to prevent them from joining with ewes). Show season commences.

March:

April: Joining

May:

June:

July: Start to increase ewes energy intake coming into third trimester of gestation* and lactation*.

August: Shearing (Sheep are clean for lambing so I can monitor udder springing and body condition visually); vaccinate ewes (with annual booster so immunity is passed onto unborn lamb); Backline (for external parasites ie. lice as a preventative measure); drench (for internal parasitises ie. worms).

September: Lambing (check on ewes & lambs twice every day)

October: Rams annual testing for Ovine Brucellosis*Free Accreditation scheme

November: Mark lambs (1st 6in1 vaccination*, Gudair OJD* vaccination, tail dock, castrate if required)

December: Lambs 2nd 6in1 vaccination; NLIS* ear tag; Drench* (for Barber’s Pole and Liver Fluke when it is hot and wet)

* Glossary:

Drench: Chemical treatment administrated orally in the prevention and elimination of worms.
Gestation: Term of pregnancy.
Joining: Putting selected rams in paddock with selected ewes to give the best possible genetic outcome.
Lactation: Production of milk for lambs.
Lambing: Ewes giving birth to lambs.
Marking: The process of getting lambs into the stock yards for a series of treatments such as vaccinating, tail docking, castrating ram lambs.
NLIS: National Livestock Identification System
OJD: Ovine Johnes Disease – a wasting disease in sheep affecting the small intestine
Ovine Brucellosis: A ‘STI’ disease in rams that causes miscarriages in ewes
6in1 vaccination: Protection against cheesy gland and the five main clostridial diseases (pulpy kidney, tetanus, malignant oedema, black disease, blackleg).   Annual booster required.

Baa Baa Black Sheep – why become a sheep farmer?

I’m a small-scale farmer. My small coloured Corriedale sheep flock was established in 2004 when I finished high school, in the Hawkesbury District of western Sydney. In 2010 the flock and I re-located to Boorowa on the South West Slopes of NSW.

So why become a sheep farmer? Like you I have a passion for working with animals. I love what I learn from them and I enjoy the challenging responsibility. Sheep are so accessible (easy to buy a few) and they produce products that you use on a weekly basis – wool and lamb.

Owning sheep (as opposed to other livestock species) also allowed me to manage my flock independently: I am able to set-up make-shift yards on my own (a few star-posts, gates and sheep mesh); transport the sheep in an enclosed box trailer on the back of my car – no transport carrier required; I can safely carry out routine husbandry tasks on my own.

From before I started with my own flock and to today, having other sheep breeders I can call and visit has been so valuable to my own learning. I had little previous experience with farming, growing up in the suburbs of Sydney. When starting up your own flock, everything there is to know about sheep farming – you will experience for the first time, and you will need some advice along the way.

A common associated thought with farming is to own land – a high capital cost that may be a longer term goal when you first want to set up your own livestock enterprise. I’ve been fortunate to be able to secure a paddock in both locations, and be self-sufficient.

For an insight into my flock, visit www.QuebonColouredSheep.com