Our 2017 sheep husbandry workshop was delivered by Doug Alcock (Graz Prophet Consultants) . The workshop covered a huge amount of ground about farming sheep in the Capital region. Our host was Craig Starr at Gold Creek Station (a mighty fine venue for country weddings and other celebrations).
Key pointsFat scoring is a handy technique for assessing whether your sheep are fat, thin or just right. A fat score 1 is a very skinny sheep that needs attention. Fat score 5 is where you can hardly feel the ribs (and maybe the sheep needs to go in the diet paddock). Fat score 3 is a good place to be.
NSW DPI Primefact 302 Fat Scoring Sheep and Lambs has information about how to do fat scoring.Hoof trimming for sheep is done to help keep the feet healthy. Sometimes they get grit and gravel stuck between hoof layers and get infections. If there is lots of wet weather and the sheep have a foot infection with a putrid smell then it could be footrot and you need a vet. See Primefact 265 Footrot in Sheep and Goats.
Pasture planning: our pastures in the Southern Tablelands follow a somewhat predictable growth pattern with most pasture growth in September and October. To minimise the costs of supplementary feeding, it is helpful to match stocking rates to pasture growth. In dry years there will be less grass.
Graz Clock is a spreadsheet created by Doug that can be used to help with understanding pasture cycles and planning stocking.
Attending a PROGRAZE course will teach you about how to manage pastures and grazing.
Supplementary feeding: if there is not enough grass and you want to keep your sheep then you will need to feed them extra. The amount to feed depends on the type of sheep (dry, pregnant, lambs, weaners) and the amount of grass in the pasture.
Feed such as wheat, barley, oats, corn or sheep nuts needs to be introduced slowly (say 50g/head/day for three days, then 100g/head/day and so on) so that you don’t poison your sheep. If they have never had the feed before then you need to be especially careful that a few brave sheep don’t eat the lot and die. Lupins are a safe option.
NSW DPI Primefact 331 Supplementary feeding of sheep in southern NSW has more information.
[See also the NSW DPI Drought and Supplementary Feed Calculator app which allows you to calculate feeding options for your sheep and pastures.]
Lambing time: generally it works best to time lambing so that lambs are being weaned when there is lots of grass. In the NSW Southern Tablelands, lambing in August means that the young lambs can take advantage of the peak grass growing time (September/October) and minimises the amount of supplementary feeding needed.
Joining: sheep have a 150 day gestation period so you need to put the rams in with the ewes in early March to get lambs in August. This is known as joining and can go on for about 5 weeks. You need to feed your rams well before this (lupins are good). Ewes will have more twins and triplets if they are fat score 3 or higher at joining.
Lamb marking is generally done when the lambs are two to six weeks old. This can involve ear marking, ear tagging, castration, tail docking and vaccination.
Shearing: in the merino wool industry, shearing has traditionally been done at the end of June but this means that the sheep use extra energy to keep warm instead of growing bigger lambs. If you shear sheep in winter you will need to give them supplementary feed.
Shearing in late November/early December can help reduce flystrike and problems with seeds burrowing into the skin.
It is best not to shear in the month before lambing when pregnant ewes need to spend lots of time eating.
Many meat sheep such as Dorpers don’t shed fully and may need shearing.
Mostly you need to shear when the shearer is available.
Fly strike: sheep with wet fleece or dags can get flystrike in the warm months. This is where flies lay eggs on damaged skin and maggots hatch and feed on the skin. Usually this happens around the tail (breech strike) or along the back (body strike). Generally sheep with wool have more problems with flystrike. See the FlyBoss website for more information about treatment and prevention measures.
Crutching is shearing the wool from around the tail and inside back legs to keep dags off the breech area. This helps to reduce breech strike. It is often done before and during the fly season and prior to lambing.
Parasitic worms: there are three main types of intestinal worms affecting sheep in the Capital region: Barber’s Pole Worm, Brown Stomach Worm and Black Scour Worm. If left uncontrolled, these can kill your sheep. Best practice worm management combines pasture management, faecal worm egg counts (WEC) and effective drenching. You need to do regular WECs if you want to have any idea about what is happening with worms in your sheep.
Kate Sawford, District Veterinarian for the Braidwood Region has written a useful guide to Controlling Worms in Sheep in the Braidwood Region.
The WormBoss website has extensive information about managing worms in sheep and helps you decide when drenching is needed. The Capital region is in the WormBoss NSW non seasonal rainfall area.
Worm egg count test kits are available from South East Local Land Services offices and rural suppliers. The test kit is free and has information about the costs for the tests.
Working with sheep
Moving sheep around yards
Sheep need to be moved into and around yards for routine tasks such as fat scoring, shearing, hoof trimming, drenching and vaccinations. A sheep dog can help with this but many people on small farm holdings use a bucket with some feed rattling in it instead.
A bugle shaped layout for yards works well for funnelling sheep into a race or small space.
It is easiest to move sheep if you are beside them. The balance point is at their shoulder. If you move forward from this towards the head then the sheep will go backwards, if you move behind the balance point towards the back leg then the sheep moves forwards. Mostly it doesn’t work to stand behind the sheep. This all takes practise.
Drench is an oral treatment for worms. The WormBoss website provides extensive information about selection and use of drenches.
You need to know the weight of your sheep before drenching (so you need scales).
Drenching guns are often rather inaccurate in the doses they deliver. Use a beaker to collect a number of doses (say 8-10) to check for accurate volume.
Quarantine drench any new sheep arriving on your property and keep them in a quarantine paddock for at least three days. See NSW DPI Primefact 477 Quarantine Drenching – Don’t Import Resistant Sheep Worms.
Drenching at weaning is encouraged by Doug (even when WECs are low).
This video about drenching technique may be helpful.
Sheep are generally vaccinated with 5 in 1 or 6 in 1 vaccine. The vaccine is injected subcutaneously (under the skin), usually behind the ear on the neck.
This video about injecting technique may be helpful.
NSW DPI ‘Sheep Agskills: A Practical Guide to Farm Skills’, available CSIRO Publishing.
J Court, JW Ware and S Hides ‘Sheep Farming for Meat & Wool’, available CSIRO Publishing.