How often have you taken the time at joining to stop and watch the action? It’s not taboo, and it is ok to talk about it! It is actually really important. People are often checking sheep, particularly at this time of year, but that is generally just making sure they are still there, no obvious fly strike, and there is water in the trough. They get through that process as quick as possible and move on to the next mob.
I’m asking you to slow down a bit, pause for a while and learn more about your sheep. Too often we are all guilty of being “too busy”, and we look at things, but see nothing. With most people joining now, or in the next month or so it is even more critical to not just look, but actually see.
So here is what I want you to look for at this time of year –
Are rams working?
Are they hanging closely with the mob throughout the day? Is there a lot of activity with them pursuing ewes, pulling that ugly “lips out” face that they love to pull at this time of year? Taking note of the amount of activity, when it slows down or stops can tell you a lot about how well ewes are cycling (or aren’t) and how well rams are working (or aren’t). Too often we are faced with the job of trying to work backwards from scanning to try and figure out what went wrong with a joining, when some of the best information could have been gathered at joining.
Sheep on Stubbles?
Is there much grain in the stubble? Stubbles are often a mirage, they look like a great thing from a distance, but when you really look at it there is bugger all feed in them. Some are great (particularly beans) but most a pretty average in real terms. With the recent rain, some will become a fantastic feed source, but you need to know what is really there.
If there is feed there then great, but what about water? Often we are faced with big cropping paddocks and poor water supplies. Water quality is important, so keep an eye on that, and get it tested if you have any concerns. Would you drink it? If not, then maybe they shouldn’t.
In terms of paddock size, the effective grazing of a cropping paddock or block can be impacted if there isn’t enough water points. Sheep, particularly young sheep, will only travel a certain distance from water in search of feed.
We saw a case last year where limited water points resulted in poor utilisation of a bean stubble that was part of a bigger cropping block. It was a great feed resource that the lambs just simply weren’t willing to walk to, particularly with warmer weather. You may not be able to do anything about it this year, but if you take the time to watch your stock and learn from them, then you can implement plans to help next time.
One simple idea in big cropping blocks is to put in multiple water points that you can turn on and off. By changing which trough has water you can get a rotation going around the cropping block and get more effective use of the feed available. It is exactly the same concept that is used by cattle producers in the northern territory where fencing isn’t an option.
As the year progresses
As we work our way into the growing year, think about how much you know about your sheep. What are their grazing habits, where do they camp in each paddock, how can you make better use of their natural habits. I constantly hear that “sheep are dumb”. I disagree. They just don’t always do what you want them to do. That doesn’t make them dumb at all. Actually it makes them quite clever. Your job as a sheep producers is to better understand them, and work with them, not against them. We will have more on this throughout the year.
A shameless Plug
In keeping with our commitment to continually improve we will be offering a new series of workshops and short courses. These are all designed to challenge you to be better, no matter how good you are. The first will be “Ram Health & Allocation”. The workshop run by Helen McGregor will make you more confident in assessing all aspects of ram health immediately prior to joining, and allocating individual rams to the most appropriate ewes.
The workshop will take place at Camperdown on Tuesday 14th of February. To register your interest in this or any other workshops we will be running this year, please visit our events page.
There is no shame in watching the action at joining. It is actually very important and something you should make an effort to do. Just don't bother trying to explain what you have been up to when you are down at the pub!