Drought case study - Violet Town
The Crocker family of Violet Town in north-east Victoria built and used their first containment area more than 20 years ago and have used them several times since. With clear triggers for movement of stock into containment, there is peace of mind that the land will not erode, and stock will not lose condition in dry seasons.
The site for the first area was chosen as it was away from natural water courses, had good shade and had a reliable permanent water supply. 'The first areas were constructed on the eastern side of a north-south lane to utilise the shade of mature trees,' Charlie said.
In choosing sites, he avoided areas that had runoff potential into watercourses, to reduce the risk of contamination from dung and urine. A second site was chosen for its proximity to a seven megalitre dam (1.5km away) which had a tank connected and could provide for the needs of 3000 sheep.
The initial area is predominantly watered by a reticulated pressure pump system from the house and garden supply. This system also incorporates a 25,000-litre storage tank and windmill, which can supply water by gravity. Charlie said the garden may seem unimportant to maintain in a drought, but it is vital to act as an oasis for mental wellbeing.
The second site is supplied from the large dam and a solar pump, incorporating a 25,000-litre storage tank on the dam bank, which provides a head of 4m to allow a gravity fed reticulated system. A back-up pump system uses a fire fighting pump should the solar pump fail.
Charlie has round troughs within the first area but rectangular troughs in the second as they were easier to clean, using less water. He uses a rectangular trough big enough for about 15 sheep to drink at any one time, with a trough edge of 4.3m, and ensures there is enough pressure for the trough to fill quickly.
Troughs are cleaned out once a week and the water level is kept very high (within a couple of centimetres of the trough edge). This allows any dust or hay residue in the trough to be blown over the side and helps maintain water quality.
Ease of construction and economics were key drivers in the design of containment areas on the Crocker’s farm. Their initial area was built using a fence to partition an existing small paddock into 3 yards. The fence was constructed using six-line ringlock, with one plain wire at the top.
Steel posts were placed every 5 metres and pine posts used as strainers. Gateways are 3.6 metres (12 foot) to allow for bigger equipment like tractors to move in and out of the areas.
There is a clear trigger point for sheep to enter containment areas — when groundcover is reduced to around 70 per cent. Charlie said the driver was as much about protecting his pasture and soil assets as keeping sheep in good condition. Sheep need to be on a full ration of grain before entering containment. Charlie allows 21 days to transition the sheep onto the full ration in the paddock.
Initially Charlie used clip lock roofing as a feed trough but found this wasn’t effective. The roofing was hard to pin down, sheep tended to put their heads under it to find spilled grain and it held water. It was time consuming to realign the troughs into a straight line before he could feed each time.
He now uses 1 metre wide, heavy rubber conveyor belting as a feed pad. Grain is provided 2 to 3 times a week at a rate of 3kg per head per week. A yard of 1000 sheep is also given one roll of hay once a week.
Sawdust was initially used as a base when feeding hay to keep it clean, but animal health concerns when the sawdust became wet ruled this out.
Limestone and salt is included in the ration to provide calcium and to encourage sheep to drink more water.
Charlie said it was important that sheep weren’t suffering any health issues before they enter containment '… everything is magnified quickly when they get into a smaller area'. Sheep are vaccinated and drenched before going in and this sometimes coincides with a normal pre-summer drench program.
Any sheep showing signs of underperformance due to disease or shy feeding are promptly removed and managed separately. Charlie said shy feeders normally respond favourably to a lower stocking rate and would perform better once they were isolated.
Transition in and out of containment
Sheep are kept in the area until Charlie feels there is enough available pasture to sustain them in paddocks. The only times the sheep exit during their time of containment is for animal health management tasks or if the area becomes too wet.
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.