Kim Woods | May 12, 2014 | Outcross Media
Struggling with lambs in a standard working race during shearing is now a thing of the past for wool grower Regan Bairstow. The 27-year-old concedes sheep work is now a breeze on his family’s south-west Western Australian farm thanks to innovative handling equipment. Regan and his brother Courtney, and parents Harley and Helen, farm the 2915ha “Clifton Farm” at Dumbleyung.
Set in a 350mm rainfall zone, the property supports a 50:50 cropping and livestock enterprise. The family switched from a prime lamb enterprise to a self-replacing Merino flock, doing away with the challenge of supplementary feeding crossbred lambs to meet market specifications.
The 2200 Barloo and Kingussie blood Merino ewes, averaging 19.5 micron and cutting 6.5-7kg of wool, are run at 5-6 DSE/ha. Wethers are grazed in three age groups until the age of three, then shorn and sold into the live export trade. Maiden ewes are pregnancy scanned into wet and dry mobs with the cull ewes run as dry sheep and rejoined the following year.
Harley and Courtney saw a ProWay bulk sheep handler demonstrated at the Wagin Woolorama two years ago. They were impressed by the equipment’s throughput, labour efficiency, and reduction in operator fatigue and injury risk.
Able to accommodate 20-30 sheep at a time, the bulk handler uses a low stress lift procedure restraining multiple sheep from underneath and brings them to a comfortable working height. Sheep become passive when caught as a group in a natural position, ready for back lining, tagging, drenching, vaccinating, mouthing, jetting or capsuling. Handling and filling times are quick, and sheep cannot tunnel and bury their heads.
The Bairstow family installed a covered 12m hydraulically operated bulk handler in August last year, converting their existing working race into a lead-up race for the new equipment.
It was placed on a concrete pad and a drafting gate installed at the exit point.
“The bulk handler came in time for lamb shearing in September – handling the lambs is always the biggest nightmare,’’ Regan said.
“Sheep work is now more enjoyable, it has sped up the process, it’s less labour intensive and frustrating,’’ Regan said.
“We can get away with one person doing all the sheep handling, particularly with shorn sheep and lambs – it has eliminated sheep suffocating each other.
“This frees us up for other tasks as on a mixed farm there is always a lot going on.’’
Regan said the covered work area enabled sheep husbandry to happen in all weather conditions.
“We crutched 6000 sheep in hot February weather with four shearers doing around 2000 a day,’’ he said.
“It was no fun drenching in the race in the heat in the past but we were able to go from two drench guns to one due to the efficiency of the bulk handler.’’
The sheeted sides of the handler give operators protection from chemicals, such as lice treatments, as the sheep are immobile. Regan said passive sheep enabled the correct chemical application rates.
“There was always quite a bit of chemical wasted in either over or under spray in the past,’’ he said.
“The handler is good for needling as we don’t have to worry about holding the sheep’s head – we vaccinate in the skin of the belly and there is little chance of injuring ourselves.’’
Regan said the mainline shearing in July would truly test the bulk handler’s capacity. He has found it holds about 20 rams, or 35-40 old sheep, or 50 young sheep, with the stock accessible from both sides of the handler. He said eartagging sheep for sale was now a breeze.
“We are quite positive about the sheep industry – there is not big money in sheep but the banks like it, and I look at sheep as insurance when cropping is susceptible to frost and drought.’’