Drought case study — Glenaroua
The Thomson family at Glenaroua in central Victoria have no hesitation in using stock containment areas. After a positive first experience, they expanded and fine-tuned their management and now have 13 pens able to hold their entire flock if needed.
Careful thought went into the first site which proved so useful that it has since been expanded. The site was chosen for its:
- proximity to a reliable water supply
- ability to capitalise on shade from trees on the roadside
- being close to farm infrastructure.
It was also close enough to the house for the stock to be checked regularly without travelling a long distance. Being on a slight slope and with gravel-based soils, were also considered as favourable.
The Thomson’s sought advice before setting up their first area.
The advice was to have an ideal pen size of 20 metre by 40 metres, to hold up to 500 dry sheep, (such as Merino wethers). This allows 1.6 square metres per head if containing 500 sheep.
Ross said the thinking behind space allowance was that the manure and urine from the sheep in the containment area would pack down and actually reduce dust levels, which is one of the key issues for stock in containment.
The pens were built with six-wire ringlock and three plain support wires, but no top wire. Steel posts were placed about 3 metres apart, and pine posts were used as end assemblies.
A reliable water supply from a spring fed dam was a key determinant of the chosen site. Each of the pens has a 1,000 to 1500 litre trough. The troughs have a circumference of 1940mm and the drinking height is 600mm above the ground.
Water is pumped using a petrol engine unit, from a nearby dam to a 22,000-litre tank that enables water to gravity-feed to troughs through 1 to 2 inch pipe. Ross said if the ground was flatter, he would recommend 2 inch pipe for a better flow.
Pumping water into the tank is a daily activity while the sheep are in the containment area to supply the estimated needs of about 5.0 to 5.5 litres per head per day. There is a 20 metre fall between the tank and the last pen. Each trough has a calcium and zinc block added weekly to decrease algal growth in the water.
Troughs are checked daily for cleanliness and are cleaned out regularly.
When to go in
The Thomsons make plans months before sheep go into containment. If seasonal conditions continue to look tough, they start increasing the supplementary feeding regime so the sheep are on a full ration for a month before containment.
All sheep are shorn, drenched and given a 6-in-1 vaccination before they enter to ensure they are as healthy as possible.
Ross has changed from trail feeding sheep along a conveyor belt in his initial containment area to using lick feeders. Each pen has 2 feeders, so 26 feeders are needed if all pens are full of sheep.
Although this has come at a cost, he said the time saved by feeding this way was worth the outlay, as was the decrease in the amount of feed lost when previously using the grain trail method.
Feeders are filled about 3 times every fortnight. Sheep are not removed from the pens when the feeders are refilled, and Ross said the stock quickly become used to the routine and would stand back and wait.
Keeping a watchful eye on stock is one of the keys to the success of their containment area and is part of the management program each day.
It takes about 1 hour to walk through the pens and check the health of all sheep, which is usually done first thing in the morning.
About 5% of the sheep in each pen are tagged and these are weighed every month to determine growth performance in the SCA. An added check is for 50 per cent of the stock to be condition scored each time they are yarded for weighing, with the goal of keeping the sheep in condition score three.
While it is vital to visually monitor daily, Ross said it was also important to have objective measures such as a known liveweight, to gauge the stock’s performance.
Transition in and out
All sheep going in are on a full ration for about 3 to 4 weeks before they enter containment. Ross said the sheep adapt quickly, taking about a week to settle into the routine.
When it comes time to letting the sheep out, Ross makes a judgement on whether they are let out immediately into paddocks or are only let out for restricted times and then put back into the containment area. He said the deciding factor was the amount of paddock feed.
If there is limited paddock feed, then Ross will allow the sheep to go straight from the SCA to the paddocks, with barley still offered in feeders placed in the paddock. If the pasture is lush, then the sheep are only allowed a few hours at pasture before being put back in the containment area. This transition to full paddock feed takes about a week.
Things to consider
The Thomsons believe it’s better not to put the sheep straight into a containment area after shearing, due to the chance of infection from any shearing cuts. They have found that it was better to allow the sheep to remain in paddocks for about two weeks after shearing, to allow any knicks to heal.
They consider the ideal duration for sheep to be in containment is about 3 months. However, the actual length of time is determined by rain and the pasture growth in paddocks.
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.