Stretch’s sheep-handling made easier
The implementation of mechanised sheep-handling equipment has proven to deliver a suite of economic benefits to a growing number of WA sheep producers.
But some farmers have trialled the technology, only to find the financials do not quite stack up for their specific operation as it stands today.
Sixth-generation Mobrup farmer Emily Stretch and her parents Digby and Nikki have done just that, yet still consider the technology an extremely valuable addition to their yards thanks to its ability to reduce the physical impact of sheep work and deliver better precision when it comes to husbandry tasks.
The Stretch family runs 5200 Merino ewes and 4000-5000 wethers over 2400 grazing hectares (3500ha total) while aiming to produce fine white wools suited to a high rainfall environment.
The Stretch family stopped mulesing 10 years ago which has impacted significantly on their flock-management techniques.
A more hands-on approach to reducing worm and fly problems saw Ms Stretch and her family carry out an aggressive worm-control program, including on-farm faecal worm egg counts and strict culling guidelines.
Keen to test a sheep-handling system that would make these tasks somewhat easier, they chose a simple-to-use sheep handler with minimal electronics and noise that allows for the sheep to be clamped using the bodyweight of the operator via a foot pedal.
The handler has a three-way draft option and load bars for weighing the sheep once they’re held in place.
While the Stretch family said the technology had not made or saved them any money, or sped up husbandry tasks, the addition of the handler had significantly reduced the physical impact of working with sheep.
“We’re able to provide treatments and do applications with better precision and control,” Ms Stretch said.
“We’re also utilising the handler to carry out more than one task at a time.”
Vaccinations, the tagging of newly purchased wethers, back-lining after shearing, weighing crossbred lambs, the dagging of lambs before sale, some drenching and the classing of sheep to identify wool and udder problems is all done using the handler.
Ms Stretch said many of the benefits of using the handler were unexpected and she now had a better grasp on classing thanks to the fact her dad was able to teach her the ins and outs while the sheep were stationary.
“We’ve also gained a better understanding of the weight ranges within our mobs and know that our overall management has improved with simpler product application and less waste,” she said.
“The equipment has allowed more inexperienced workers to do sheep work while Dad and I have focused on higher-valued operations at certain times of the year, like during harvest.”
The handler, lead-up race, draft and weigh equipment cost $14,500 and while the family hasn’t necessarily made a financial return on their investment (it has so far returned a negative net present value), they certainly have made a qualitative one.
“By using the handler we definitely have widened the scope to utilise different sources of labour and combine more than one treatment or task with each pass,” Ms Stretch said.
“Crossbred weighing and drafting is so much simpler for us now that we can simply run animals through one point into three separate lines.
“But we never use the handler when we’re under a time constraint as clamping animals individually is slower than handling a double drench race full of sheep.
“That being said, when we have the time I do opt for the handler — especially with large wethers or horned animals.”
In her case study on the Stretch family’s use of the sheep handler LA.ONE Economics & Consulting economist and business analyst Lucy Anderton concluded that productivity gains were always hoped for with most investments in new technology but not all purchases were based purely on economic criteria.
“There’s an occupational health and safety advantage associated with managing sheep in a more controlled environment, including a reduced likelihood of injury, increased operator comfort and a reduction in operator fatigue,” she said.
This case study was supplied by the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development. Mention of product names should not be taken as endorsement or recommendation.
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