Technology on tour: sheep tour to Victoria

Page last updated: Wednesday, 13 September 2017 - 9:48am

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Three thousand pregnant ewes on a three hectare feedlot, 180% lambing from precision vision management, ‘no hounds more pounds’ and single-use vehicles were but a snapshot of some of the innovative practices being applied on-farm in western Victoria.

These innovations were witnessed recently by an astute group of producers and professionals on the Sheep Industry Business Innovation (SIBI) project’s sheep study tour.

The department’s John Paul Collins and Beth Paganoni led a group of 19 producers through the biting cold of the Grampians to experience different agricultural policies, farming systems and quiz local researchers, consultants and producers on their knowledge and management of sheep husbandry and genetics.

The study tour included visits to Sheepvention, Victoria’s feed-intake facilities, the world’s largest ryegrass genetics trial and meetings with leading sheep producers from the region.

Visit to Tim and Georgie Leeming’s Pardoo Prime, north of Hamilton

A visit to Tim and Georgie Leeming’s property ‘Paradoo Prime’ north of Hamilton revealed what could be achieved when the bar was set high. Tim and Georgie run a self-replacing composite flock that weaned 180% (9200 lambs) from ewes joined in 2017 with the objective of achieving 11 000 lambs without compromising this weaning percentage over the longer term. Tactics included a phased joining system incorporating teasing (two weeks) then a 17 day joining followed by a 20 day rest which is repeated twice. Dry ewes are reduced to less than 5%. Replacements are kept from the first joining to ensure the most fertile genetics are retained. Hotwires, small paddock sizes, containment areas, forage rape and grazing oats are also used strategically.

Producer Clayton South of Wagin said regarding Tim Leeming’s system “We are on the same track, just a little more immature. Getting up to his scale I realise is our aim. Whatever we are under him is what we’re not achieving. I am constantly thinking about where we can improve. It has got my head spinning. This tour has been and will continue to be a game changer for us.” 

Visit to Gordon Browne’s Shelburn, west of Geelong

Venturing further east, we visited ‘Shelburn’, a corporate farm managed by Gordon Browne about half an hour west of Geelong. Gordon currently runs 2500 composite ewes on 1200 hectares (ha) and plans to increase his flock to 4000 composite ewes in the next three years. The immaculately presented infrastructure included a Proway bulk-handler, a Tru-test autodrafter and four-stand, sawtooth, raised-board, shearing shed. Pedigree Matchmaker is used to calculate lambs weaned per ewe. His highest performing mobs are achieving 214% scanning and weaning 185%. Gordon, in his 60s and who has managed farms across Australia for all of his working life, indicated that his next exciting goal is to obtain feedback on individual carcases from processors now that mandatory electronic identification (EID) for livestock has been introduced in Victoria providing the opportunity for carcase monitoring and traceability through the abattoir.

Producer Phil Soullier of Mingenew said of Gordon Browne’s operation “I come from a farm that is behind the 8-ball. Even the application of EID is [mind] blowing tech for us. I am totally amazed with the opportunities. This is where I can see we are going (EID)”.

Presentation by Nathan Scott, Achieve Ag Solutions

Nathan Scott from Achieve Ag provided an inspiring address to the group around technology and mandatory EID. Nathan used analogies from cropping to show how the sheep industry needs to use technology to excite young people. He also debunked many of the myths around EID and emphasised that it was just a tool that makes data collection more accurate, easier, faster and more likely to happen. He also emphasised that collecting data because you can is meaningless; its value is only realised when you use it to inform and support decision making.

Alan Garstone of Kingston Rest feedlot (Boyanup) said “The potential for our industry is huge once EID is adopted. I have changed my idea from thinking EID would be pointless to now thinking the whole industry will benefit from compulsory regulation.”

Visit to Josh Walter’s Murnong farm, near Inverleigh

Josh Walter from Murnong farm has strict biosecurity and low-stress management policies in place on the intensive multi-enterprise farm he manages near Inverleigh, which includes sheep, pig and grain production. Dogs have been prohibited on the farm for five years, which has improved lamb growth rates, reduced staff stress and improved carcase quality. In addition, he has introduced a strict ‘single-use’ vehicle policy across the property.

Lambing rounds are coordinated to collect birth weights and pedigree information; these are conducted in ATVs. Supplementary feeding is performed only in a farm ute. All mustering, in rain hail or shine (more of the first two) is performed on a motor/quad bike. This strict imprinting policy has reduced stock stress significantly and the benefits can be witnessed when each of the vehicles enters a paddock. The ewes barely move when an ATV approaches, they move positively towards a ute and charge towards the gate if approached by a bike. A simple yet disciplined approach to reducing stock stress which is a priority for their commendable production system.

Feedback from participants

Participants of the 2017 Sheep Industry Business Innovation Victorian study tour

“Being with a like-minded group of people is a privilege. Extremely successful people. I feel we are on the right track and I am with the right people. Then you add the Victorians to the group! Thank you for the innovation, the inspiration and the friendships”

Linda Rose, Bodallin

“I learnt just as much off tour members as the speakers. Nathan Scott’s slides with dollar figures reinforced that the sooner I can work out which lamb has been raised by which ewe, the sooner that I can add immense value to my business. My aim is to know the kilograms of lamb weaned per kilogram of ewe joined. Also to then measure wool to add the total value to the equation.”

Clayton South, Wagin

“We will look at how EID can give us more profit and improve our commercial breeding flock given EID ear tags aren’t usually fitted. The optimism from Nathan Scott was heartening and very inspiring. There are a lot of little things that we can do to improve operations – i.e. having a plan and writing it down, making it achievable. SMART.”

Andrew Slade, Mt Barker

“Sitting down with my old man will be the most important step for me. He has totally different older school ideas than me. We have to agree on our joint direction. Compromising and making sure there are things that I can implement that he agrees are important.”

Amy Schleuter, Tambellup

“I think I learnt more from our group on the bus than the speakers. Split joinings from Tim Leeming was a key takeaway action. Some strategy is required as to how that can work within our system. A decent challenge. We will look at smaller ewe flocks too”

Phil Soullier, Mingenew

“Mob size for lambing so a key takeaway for me – I’ll definitely be doing smaller paddocks for mating and lambing. I will also look at weaning pens that are small and close to the yards for imprint feeding. I plan to breakdown big tasks into smaller manageable tasks.”

Eric Crossley, Woodanilling

In conclusion

A key outcome of the tour was internal networking. There was a diverse skill base in the group including sheep producers ranging from Kojonup to Bodallin, a feedlotter, supply-chain manager, sheep consultant and ag college teacher. Regular debrief sessions were conducted throughout the tour allowing each participant to reflect on their learnings and share what they planned to bring back to their own sheep enterprises. Several psychological surveys conducted by Beth during our evening sessions revealed a diverse range of personality types from scientists and thinkers to nurturers and artists.

A previous study tour run by SIBI to regional New South Wales in 2016 was deemed a success in terms of industry value. All 20 delegates had gone on to present their learnings either at industry forums or amongst their peers and resulted in 200 or more people positively impacted from the tour. All of the tour participants had returned and made changes to their genetics and/or labour efficiency and invested in technology. In addition, three new Lifetime Ewe Management (LTEM) groups were formed and several new industry leaders emerged.

More information

For more information on the study tour, follow the twitter conversation from the tour using #WASheepTour or #SIBI. A collated report from each of the individual study tour reports will be made available on this website in the coming weeks and a webpage highlighting key outcomes and photos will soon be produced.

Contact information