How to take advantage of joining ewes in containment

How to take advantage of joining ewes in containment

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Joining ewes in containment can be advantageous for sheep producers.

Joining ewes in containment can be advantageous for sheep producers.

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Joining ewes in containment can be advantageous for sheep producers and AgriPartner Consulting principal livestock consultant Hamish Dickson had some tips for those considering doing it.

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Joining ewes in containment can be advantageous for sheep producers and AgriPartner Consulting principal livestock consultant Hamish Dickson had some tips for those considering doing it.

Mr Dickson said there were many benefits to joining in containment, not only around managing stock but also land resources and protecting ground cover.

He said from a stock perspective, you could manage their condition and diet better.

If used as part of a strategic management tool, it could also allow you to potentially increase your overall stocking rate.

"And if you set [the yards] up close to handling areas like a shearing shed, when using the shearing shed, they can often come in handy then too, so they can be useful beyond the key times you initially constructed them for," he said.

He said containment yards could allow for a lot easier joining process, but they did not "magically" improve your conception rates.

"We hear a range of stories of people getting improvements in conception rates in the yards, but in reality, you should be able to achieve the same rate in the paddocks as you do in the containment area," he said.

"An increased conception rate would often be the result of focusing more on those animals, for example on their nutrition, and of course it allows for better contact between ewes and rams."

Containment yards also provided the opportunity to manage groups of animals differently.

"In the paddock you may not go to the effort of splitting mobs up in condition scores and then feeding some more than others, but if you're bringing animals into containment and are having to split them into groups anyway, it's not hard to then run them down the draft and score them," he said.

"That can be a way of easily managing those groups and getting a better outcome out the other side."

Some containment yard designs suggested by Hamish Dickson.

Some containment yard designs suggested by Hamish Dickson.

Mr Dickson said one of the key considerations that should be made before building containment yards was their design.

"You need to make sure you have sufficient space for your animals, not just on a feeding basis, but as a stocking density," he said.

"For sheep, at least 5 metres square per head is required."

Then you had to ensure they had sufficient access to feed and water.

"In the case of containment, where we are commonly limiting how much feed they have access to, we have to be able to ensure that if we're only putting a set amount out, that all animals have access to the trough," he said.

"If all animals can't access feed evenly, especially when feeding a limited amount, we can see an increase in the proportion of shy feeders which will start to lose condition, and when joining, that's the last thing you want."

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Making sure shade and water were easily accessible was important too.

"Especially if you're joining in the hotter months, you've got to have it to avoid heat stress because that impacts joining," he said.

Mr Dickson said it was crucial to transition sheep into containment yards smoothly.

"Have them familiar with the feed; ideally get them started on the feed before they come into containment," he said.

"Especially if they're going onto a high grain ration, you don't want them to develop acidosis.

"The slower the increase of building up the proportion of grain in their diet, the better; it may take two to three weeks."

He said you had to be mindful that it was a change in environment for those animals.

"If they haven't been in that type of environment, they have to adapt to not just the feed but the systems and knowing that that big steel structure is actually a grain feeder and that their feed's there and it's not scary," he said.

AgriPartner Consulting principal livestock consultant Hamish Dickson.

AgriPartner Consulting principal livestock consultant Hamish Dickson.

"Some will have no issues, but some might stand back for four or five days before they go for it if they are completely unfamiliar."

He said if you were using lick feeders, a good idea was to put them out in the paddocks before putting them into containment.

"Get them used to the equipment," he said.

He said yard weaning could be a good idea if producers planned on containment feeding sheep later in life.

"It helps get them familiar with the pen and the feeding systems from an early age," he said.

He said it was important to monitor sheep after putting them in containment.

"If you've had animals that have never been in containment in their life, they might not take to that environment, so make sure you keep track of how they're doing," he said.

When it came to rams, he said their preparation was similar to a typical scenario out on the paddock.

But he said don't neglect to manage their nutrition just as you managed the ewes' nutrition.

"Sometimes the focus can be on the ewes and you forget about the rams," he said.

"It is important to build rams up to the same ration as the ewes prior to joining so they don't have to adapt to the diet when they go in with the ewes.

"If they get acidosis then can impact their fertility."

When taking ewes out of containment, Mr Dickson recommended doing it "as gradually as possible" to manage both animal health and wool quality.

The story How to take advantage of joining ewes in containment first appeared on Farm Online.

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