Drought case study - Rhymney
The Brady family have demonstrated how containment areas improve productivity and protect property assets, particularly their phalaris based pastures.
Simon and Yvette Brady, farm with their son Tim and Simon’s father Peter at Rhymney on the eastern edge of the Grampians.
While the phalaris pastures are a great asset, they need to be managed to prevent long-term damage. By shifting around half their sheep into containment areas each autumn they protect both their pastures and their soil.
They have two sets of containment areas to manage their sheep.
The original containment area is near an existing water supply and two large yards. The second is near their shearing shed and sheep yards. With both near existing infrastructure it meant they were easily accessed by existing farm laneways.
'We now use the larger yards for weaning and find it easier to get in and out of these yards without the sheep escaping. We trail feed on the ground along two sides of the yard, either on tin or rubber matting from old conveyer belts. These larger yards hold around 300 to 500 animals and a tonne of feed generally lasts about two days.'
They find two different designs provide flexibility in stock management, particularly as the two parts of the property are separated by a road.
The original yards have trees and the hay shed for shade. The new yards are more exposed, so shade cloth have been installed cloth along two-thirds of the fence on the west side. The cloth is stretched out to a wire about 1.4 metres from the fence providing both shade and wind protection.
'It is cheap, very easy to install and really effective. At lunchtime the sheep are all sitting under the shade and they still get a breeze through the cloth.'
The containment areas are used when buying in new rams, keeping them isolated for a couple of weeks to make sure they don’t have any health issues.
The yards are also useful to hold animals when marking lambs and shearing. 'They’re great for when the shearers stop halfway through a mob on Friday. We can hold them there and feed them appropriately until the Monday.'
While keeping animals contained may possibly increase the chances of disease if not managed carefully, there haven’t been many problems with sheep health. In their first year using containment the pregnant ewes lacked energy and were sitting down. After consulting Peter’s brother — a vet — they realised the ewes lacked calcium and adding lime through the auger solved the problem. They also lost a few to acidosis early on when they didn’t notice the shy feeders. 'It was purely a lack of experience. We are better at checking for shy feeders now and move those ones onto a lucerne paddock.'
Grain is fed in the paddock to get the lambs used to grain before they are weaned. They generally feed their own wheat, barley and triticale from the property and undertake a feed test of their grain and hay so that they know the energy and protein levels. In dry years they buy in extra grain if necessary.
They drench stock on the way into containment and weigh about five per cent of the mob to calculate the feed requirements for each class of sheep.
On average it takes about an hour a day to manage the seven yards across the two different containment areas.
'If they are full there could be 3500 animals in containment and 3000 in paddocks, which takes about two hours to manage, including supplementary feeding in the paddock.
'This is much more efficient than the five hours it would take if all of the livestock were in paddocks,' Simon explained.
Generally, Simon prefers to have two people feeding, to make it easier to manage the gates without stock escaping.
There is a good water supply with access to the domestic pipeline and tanks as an emergency supply. They use a variety of troughs with both the plastic and concrete sweep troughs that Simon finds very easy to use. There are some older square troughs that they find very hard to clean. The troughs are generally cleaned out twice a week.
'There is no stress in containment. It is very easy, much easier than feeding in the paddock. It gives me a tool to manage the farm better' Simon said. 'When you know how to use the tool it is very effective. I have watched my neighbours’ paddocks blowing away, but it doesn’t happen here.
'While it costs more money up-front, it looks after our most important asset — the perennial pasture. Over the long run this saves the farm money.'
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.