Stock thriving in containment lots

Stock thriving in containment lots


Sheep
Josh Molloy in one of his six containment lots at 'Ellwood', Yerong Creek.

Josh Molloy in one of his six containment lots at 'Ellwood', Yerong Creek.

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Containment lots improve conception rates and ground cover.

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Containment lots have traditionally been thought of as a last resort during bad droughts but sheep producers across the state are finding in dry conditions, their stock are not only surviving in them but thriving.

The Molloys at Ellwood, Yerong Creek, have been using containment lots during dry times since 2003. Josh Molloy said last year they had close to 2550 merino ewes in six containment paddocks from March to July and also decided to put the rams in for joining. Additionally, they had 1250 weaners locked in a 32 hectare block.

"We had them in containment lots right up to lambing and we actually had our best ever conception rates at 163 per cent," Mr Molloy said.

They also recorded their best lamb marking results with 111 per cent for the Merino lambs and 120 per cent for the first cross lambs off joined ewes.

Junee mixed-farming agronomist Greg Condon said it was a similar story for producers using containment lots across the region this year.

"All the scanning results have been fantastic, not many have even come under 85 per cent, and there's been some horror stories out there of just really poor conception rates," Mr Condon said.

He said producers using containment lots were able to more easily maintain and monitor condition of the sheep at joining and the rams weren't having to walk long distances to find the ewes.

But Mr Molloy said the biggest win for them was the impact taking sheep off paddocks had on feed recovery.

"We destocked every pasture paddock right up until lambing and we then had enough pasture on the ground to get the ewes through lambing without any supplementary feeding," Mr Molloy said.

880 ewes in a containment lot at 'Ellwood', Yerong Creek.

880 ewes in a containment lot at 'Ellwood', Yerong Creek.

Mr Condon agreed retaining ground cover was critical because the top five to 10 centimetres of soil was where nutrients, including lime, gypsum, phosphorus and sulphur, sat.

"70 per cent ground cover is the standard target in the industry, once you start to get below 40 to 30 per cent and you have a hot summer like we've had and you keep grazing those stubbles or pastures, ground cover removal becomes a 100 per cent loss of all cover," Mr Condon said.

But containment lots can come at a cost. Mr Condon said as an average rule of thumb, a 55-60 kilogram ewe will require 3.5 to 4 kg of grain per week.

However, he argued the high sheep prices during this drought allowed many producers to justify the cost of grain.

"Back in 2002, 2006, 2007 it was harder to sell sheep so buying $400 grain, it was harder to make it back," he said.

"But now you can justify feeding them for an extended period of time."

Patrick Maher of Harvey Park, Coolac, has 4500 ewes in containment lots this year. He said for his operation, the lots were the only way to get through and recover from a dry period.

"The price of grain was obviously a bit of a bugger but we just had to put our ears back and do it, no other choice," Mr Maher said

He said although sheep had coped well in containment lots this year dust had caused a few issues with pink-eye and shearing results.

"The drought lots made the wool a lot dustier so the yields will be low," he said.

The Mahers have had close to 80 millimetres of rain and are hoping for a follow up so they can gradually return their ewes to the paddocks.

"It will be a huge relief, not just the financial side of it, but the time as well, those sheep have got to be fed every second day, it doesn't matter what day of the week it is," he said.

But, asked if would they do it again in similar conditions, the answer was a definite yes.

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