Drought case study – Cowangie
The design of Ian Brown’s containment areas on his Cowangie property in the Mallee, makes the movement of sheep in and out a one-person job. Ian has had experience using stock containment areas on his original family property.
When he purchased additional land it was important to have a design that would make working stock a simpler task.
Ian said his ‘wagon wheel’ design saves time and frustration for handlers and reduces stresses on sheep.
After experiencing problems with poor drainage at an existing area on his farm, Ian’s priority was to select a site on higher ground with well-draining soil.
The area at Cowangie is on sandy-loam soils, with a gently-sloping site. Ian said stock remained relatively dry underfoot, even after substantial rain. Iron panels have been installed on fences for shade and windbreaks, and existing trees within the area have been fenced for protection.
Proximity to other infrastructure was also important when choosing a site. The areas are located within walking distance of the existing shearing shed and sheep yards, allowing easy access from the containment area during activities such as shearing. They are securely linked to the sheep yards and shearing shed by a laneway, allowing stock to be funnelled simply and efficiently moved.
The Brown’s property accesses a reliable bore water supply from GWM Water’s Murrayville Groundwater Management Area.
Water from the system is stored on-farm in a 25,000-litre tank and delivered by pressure pump directly to troughs in the stock containment areas. It can also be gravity-fed in the case of power failure.
Ian has trialled smaller 50 litre stock watering troughs, 2 to 3 per pen, mounted approximately 60cm from the ground. He now uses them in preference to the traditional larger concrete troughs on the ground.
'This stops them walking through the water, there are no problems with faeces in the water, less food transferred into the water and they’re very easy to clean each day' said Ian.
Design and feeding
The wagon wheel design contains 8 yards, each approximately 2500 square metres, and each with a holding capacity of approximately 300 sheep. The wedge-shaped areas are about 100 metres long. The mouth is a 4 metre stock gate, funnelling out to a far end width of approximately 50 metres. Costs have been kept down with the use of 1.15 metre ringlock, rather than mesh panels, and treated pine posts.
'I really prefer a larger area because there isn’t the build-up of faeces and straw and the area stays in much better condition when it becomes wet,' he said.
'I also think sheep need to exercise and they will do that if they’re happy and on good feed. You can see the stock exercising up and down the pens kicking and jumping, then you know they are content. A bit of space is better for the animals and puts less pressure on fences and posts.'
Ideally all grain, hay and straw are sourced from the property. Hay and straw is fed from the ground and the grain ration is available on slow-feed through commercial feeders, which are replenished every 3 to 4 days.
Ian feeds a mix of lupins and oats, supplemented when required with barley and wheat. The pens are inspected, and water troughs are cleaned every day.
The Browns use their containment areas to allow pastures to establish and recover. Stock arriving on the property are emptied out in the containment yards, branded, and crutched or shorn.
'Managing for disease and the health of the animals is critical,' Ian said.
'We walk the yards every day and the close proximity to the sheep means you are quick to identify any health issues. The containment areas make it easy to isolate problems. They also help you to identify shy feeders and remove them, so they do better.
'We vaccinate all sheep that come onto the farm with a six-in-one vaccine, and again before they get contained. It’s more expensive, but we combine it with a drench for worms and vaccination for pulpy kidney, tetanus, black disease, oedema and blackleg.
'We’re always learning, but containment areas are an important part of our operations. They are another tool in the kit. I think a lot of people could benefit from incorporating it into their system,' Ian said.
For more information on managing during drought and dry seasonal conditions see Dry season support.
Contact your local Agriculture Victoria office or call 136 186.