Sunday, 21 June 2009

Vaccinating Sheep – An Extreme Learning Experience

On Tuesday we vaccinated our recently purchased sheep. The decision to do this was based on advice from many sources, including the vendor (who used the same product we used on the sheep in 2008), the Lachlan Livestock Health and Pest Authority veterinarian, and one of my key mentors.

While we did manage to get the job done on the day there were more ‘school of hard knocks’ learnings than we would have liked. The rest of this blog posts describes some of the main experiences.

Product Choice
The vaccine product we chose was “Cydectin Ewe Guard 6 in 1 Vaccine and Wormer for Sheep” which is manufactured by Forte Dodge Australia Pty Limited based at Baulkham Hills in the Sydney metropolitan area. The carton states “For the prevention of 5 clostridial diseases and cheesy gland, and the treatment and control of internal parasites, nasal bolt and itchmite in sheep”. Whilst this product is expensive at around $130 for a 500 ml container the fact that it provides protection against so many things SHOULD result in savings in the long term from reduced stock losses and labour in reducing the number of treatments.

The vaccinator we used was a “Quickshot™ 5 ml Vaccinator” manufactured by NJ Phillips Pty Limited of Somersby in NSW, and distributed by Pfizer Animal Health.

Preparing the Vaccinator and Feeder Tube
We followed the instructions to the ‘T’, which included sterilising the vaccinator and feeder tube by boiling in water for 20 minutes.

Coaching in Vaccinating Sheep
I had no previous experience in injecting sheep (or anything else for that matter) and so made arrangements for a neighbour to call in at 8.30ish to provide me with some coaching on vaccinating. Our sheep average around 65 kg so I set the syringe dosage to the recommended 3 ml calibration.

Mustering the Sheep
I was confident we would have no trouble getting the sheep at least into the large holding pen annexed to the sheep yards without dogs for several reasons: the yard was well grassed and had not been grazed for over 9 months meaning the sheep would enjoy moving onto fresh pasture, the sheep had not been into the area before and so would have no stress related memories, we had no trouble doing this with the wethers we had on agistment last year, we were confident of our own skills and could draw on the experience of moving the sheep a few times on the farm already. With this and the fact that we wanted to minimise the time the animals were in the yards we set off to get them in from the Front Paddock which adjoins the yards at around 8.00 am.

We had no trouble getting them into the holding yard, but it was from there a small challenge presented itself. Two obstacles became apparent: there were very tall stinging nettles in the yard AND our new chooks were in the background line of site at the entrance to the yards proper. Both presented a barrier for the sheep. We did not have them in the yards proper by the time the neighbour turned up, but with all 3 of us on the task we did achieve the objective soon enough. It was during this process that our neighbour spotted what appeared to be a small area of body fly-strike on the back of one of the sheep. On close inspection the area looked to be still active. We did not have any treatment products for fly-strike on hand.

Getting Going with the Vaccinating
Our neighbour was most helpful in trying to get the vaccinator working properly but the gun was doing two things of concern: leaking, and allowing a small quantity of air into the chamber. After completing the first pen-full in the drenching race I was sufficiently confident to ‘go it alone’ and our neighbour left and got on with the rest of his normal daily activities.

After we had done another pen of sheep we decided to take a break and have a ‘cuppa’ and to have a very close look at the vaccinator to see if I could find the cause of the air and vaccine leak. I’d tried a couple of times to tighten the fittings a few times. The cause of the problem became apparent: the tube from the vaccine container into the base of the vaccinator gun had not sealed properly due to the sterilising process softening the feeder tube. We replaced the tube and had no further problems in this respect.

The sheep with fly-strike was in the second pen of sheep we’d just finished, so we put it into the tiny yard that leads into the drafting race (with a few other sheep for company) to deal with later on.

After we’d finished another couple of pens I felt quite tired, mainly I suspect due to anxiety from doing something completely new, coupled with the physical aspects of moving along the sheep in the pen, and making sure I had them in the best position possible (for both the animals and me) to inject them under the skin at the base of the ear. In good “Aussie spirit” I decided to ‘soldier on’, rather than take a long break.

The Intense Time Kicks in
We had completed about ¾ of the sheep when I happened to notice that it was likely I might not have sufficient vaccine to finish the mob, which was puzzling as I’d calculated that there would be ample left over even allowing for wastage. It was at that point that I looked at the calibration on the vaccinator and was aghast to notice that it was set at 3.5 ml rather than 3 ml. Yes … it was obvious we would not have enough and that I’d need to go to town for more. I was angry with myself. After doing another two sheep I then knew that it was best to stop (even though I was only about half way through the pen) in the interest of my own well-being, not to mention the sheep who should not suffer due to my attitude.

What occurred next was pretty intense … and reflects poor decision making on my part during a period of high stress.

I was holding those sheep in the pen that had been vaccinated apart from the others while Jan moved sheep in the larger yards to make room for us to let those that were in the drenching race out with the others – treated and non-treated. When Jan had managed to get what I was thinking (in my confusion) were the non-treated sheep from the back of drenching race into a separate pen I then opened the gate at the front of the drenching race and started letting the sheep I thought were the treated ones in with the large lot that had been treated. Jan then (entirely appropriately) asked why I letting non-treated sheep in with the treated ones. I quickly realised my error and closed the gate, but by that time about 10 or so non-treated animals were in with the treated ones. They are impossible to distinguish.

I got my thinking a bit clearer. We were both moving a small lot (10 or so) of treated animals around to put back in with the large lot. All but one went through the gate into the next pen, but this one turned back for some reason. Finding itself isolated and (due to yard design) not being able to easily see the open gate it reacted under stress and attempted to jump the fence to get with the rest of the sheep. In the process one of its back legs got caught in the top row of the weldmesh below the pipe that runs along the top of the fence and I watched in horror as the sheep’s leg broke under the strain, with the sheep being unable to free itself. I quickly jumped to the other side of the fence and lifted the sheep back over the fence and onto the ground. It sat there totally still and in what I’d considered to be pain induced shock.

Jan and I do not want animals to suffer. I’d never heard of anyone setting broken sheep legs before. We knew the sheep was pregnant and to expect it to have to deal with a broken back leg and have, and raise, one of more lambs seemed a ‘huge expectation’. It was also not cost effective to get a veterinarian out to look at a single sheep. The decision we made was to ‘put the sheep down’ in a very quick manner, which I did out of the sight of the other sheep.

Time to Get More Chemical
After killing the injured sheep we went to town and purchased more vaccine, more spare needles and some fly treatment chemical; leaving the mob in the yard. Given we only needed to treat one sheep for fly-strike I ended up buying a can of “Extinosad – Aerosol for Wounds” which is “For the treatment and prevention of blowfly (Lucilia cuprina) strike in mulesing, marking and other wounds of sheep, including strains resistant to organophosphates. Contains antiseptic.”

Finishing the Vaccinating
After returning to the farm we finished vaccinating the rest of the mob without incident. We also caught the sheep that we thought had a small amount of fly-strike and, after removing the wool surrounding the strike area using some shears I had, we treated the area with Extinosad. We were pleased to note that the fly area did not appear to be still active.

Releasing the mob and tidying up
After the sheep were treated we released them all into the Airstrip Paddock. This paddock has not been grazed for over 9 months and so is what is describes at ‘clean’ of worms and such like.

I took the sheep carcass to the Saddle Paddock and left it on some bare ground. Whilst there may well have been other ways to use the carcass at least in this way the organic matter will be returned to the soil ‘in the circle of life’.

Events Subsequent
We’ve since learned that it is not unusual for sheep to break back legs trying to jump fences in yards AND that it is common practice to put splints on the legs, with common methods being stiff cardboard or polythene pipe held in place with string. Recovery in lambs is very rapid, and sheep suffer no long term impacts aside from the occasional limp.

We are considering contacting the manufacturers of the vaccinator and vaccine to alert them to the problem we experienced with the leakage at the base of the vaccinator due to softening of the tube during the sterilisation process.

We will also obtain a good skinning knife so that if it ever proves necessary to put a sheep down in the future we will be better able to salvage whatever is appropriate.

In Summation
Far from the best of days, however we are now much wiser. Two good points: I did manage to complete the vaccinating without injecting myself, and Jan did a marvellous job watching and remembering which sheep had been vaccinated on the odd occasion that sheep ran back and forward past me whilst I was doing the vaccinating.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

New House Tank Now Installed and Connected

We purchased a new replacement galvanised iron tank for the house some time ago. After it being delivered and placed on the stand we were advised to fill the tank to a depth of 10 cm or so to ensure it did not blow away in the event of a strong wind event. After we did this it became apparent that there was a slow leak. The advice from the tank maker was to leave it for a while to see if the leak would ‘take up’. After a couple of months it continued to leak.

A couple of days ago the manufacturer called at the farm and after draining and drying the tank he applied more silicone to the lower joins which should mean it no longer leaks. This was the prompt for us to finally connect the two downpipes from the house, which we finished yesterday.

The tank was custom-built to the same dimension as the old one. By so doing it meant that we did not need to alter the tank-stand foundations. We did replace the old cypress pine boards that were between the concrete base and the old tank bottom with new galvanised iron sheeting. This is much better for the tank longevity as it means there is minimal damp or wet contact with the bottom of the tank itself.

Now we will just wait and see how long it takes to fill the tank from normal rainfall. In this context and out of general curiosity I decided to see how much rainfall we will need to fill the tank, assuming no usage or water loss with all water that falls going into the tank. Here are the calculations:

Tank Volume in Litres
The formula for calculating round tank capacity from Page 198 of the publication “Lysaght Referee” 27th Edition published by John Lysaght (Australia) Limited in 1985 ISBN 0 909349 23 1 is:

C = (∏/4) x (Diameter)2 x height.

The diameter of the tank is 2810 mm and the height is 1760 mm.

In order to get a capacity calculation that is in litres one needs to use measurements that are in decametres. A cubic decametre (100 mm x 100 mm x 100mm) equates to 1 litre of volume. To do this, divide the diameter and height measurements by 100 if they are in millimetres. This gives a diameter figure of 28.1 (decametres) and a height of 17.6 (decametres).

Working through the formula with the actual dimensions:

C = ([22/7]/4) x (28.1 x 28.1) x 17.6
C = 10,915 litres

NB: A potentially easier way for those with internet access is to go to the following website and input the diameter and height figures in the appropriate fields:

Roof area of the house
The house is 12.3 metres long by 11.6 metres in width, giving a total roof area of 142.68 square metres.

Millimetres of Rain Required to Fill the Tank
1 millimetre of rain on 1 square metre of area produces 1 litre of water. Thus to calculate millimetres of rain needed to fill the tank we simply divide the tank volume in litres by the roof area in square metres:

Required Rainfall = 10,915 / 142.68 = 76.5 millimetres.

Why We Opted for a Galvanised Iron Tank
The logic is basically:
• We had an existing tank stand in place, needing little repair
• Grenfell has a business that makes galvanised iron tanks. Buying locally supports the local community. Product pricing is fair.
• The concrete tanks keep the water cooler in the summer, but the water tends to be ‘harder’ from these tanks. We already have a concrete tank at the Shearing Shed
• Plastic tanks come in fixed sizes. We needed a custom built tank, removing the need to alter the tank stand.
• There is some research coming through suggesting that some plastic containers (including drink bottles and tanks) ‘leak’ unfavourable chemical residues into the water they hold. Amway, for example, is apparently reverting all of its products away from plastic containers to glass.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Observations: Sheep Grazing the Duck Dam Paddock

We moved our sheep from the Duck Dam Paddock to the Front Paddock late this afternoon, meaning they were there for just over 4 full days. The Duck Dam Paddock is just over 7 hectares in area. Here are some of our observations:
The sheep seemed to spend quite a bit of the time around the dead Kurrajong Tree near the south-western corner of the paddock. We are not sure why. Maybe the grass quality was comparatively better due to the slowly decaying organic matter. Here's a picture of the dead tree with the sheep in the background. Some trivia: we were successful in finding some Witchetty grubs in the timber not long ago.
The sheep did a good job of trampling herbage mass onto the soil, whilst a good percentage of leaf area has been left post grazing to enable effective photosynthesis and plant regrowth. 
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This photo was taken looking north along the western fenceline of the paddock, and shows what the pasture looks like in both the Duck Dam (right) and Airstrip (left) paddocks.
The sheep continue to be totally silent, except for the sound of the feet when walking.
During the move, the sheep seemed to be 'spooked' by two things:
1. Walking over the black polythene pipe that is laying on the top of the soil (all were uneasy walking over it)
2. Some were very hesitant to go through the gate on the north-east corner. They did go through after not too long. There were a few sticks on the ground which we noticed after they'd gone through, and have now moved.

Preparing the Airstrip Paddock for Grazing

In two of the paddocks we have some Skeleton Weed plants dying off, a legacy of past cropping activity and a reflection of plant community succession. These plants are not liked by croppers as they get caught in the header comb. They are, however, a forb with a deep taproot, which will help us in our endeavours to address compacted soils. Some of the plants look abnormal, like the one you can see in this photograph. 'Cousin James' when he was here a month or two ago when seeing these plants commented that the cause is generally residual 'nasty' chemicals, such as DDT. I don't know if this is correct, but it does sound plausible. It is many years since chemicals such as these would have been used here.
In getting the paddock ready for grazing (not planned for a few days yet) I decided to place a guard around a Kurrajong Tree seedling, evident in this photograph. What stuck me was the comparative richness of the green vegetation at the base of the tree, between the rocks we placed around it quite some time ago. Maybe the distinctly deeper green is due to protection from wind provided by the rocks, or increased biodiversity resulting from the habitat the rocks provide, or minerals brought to the surface by the Kurrajong Tree with its deep taproot, or improved water cycling due to the protection from the rocks. Who knows!
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While walking across this paddock we startled about 6 or so Quails. Within moments an Australian Hobby appeared from nowhere, ready to catch the next Quail. A Quail did fly up but was sufficiently fast enough to land and find cover before the Hobby could get to it. The acceleration of the Hobby in the pursuit process was something to be seen.

New Chooks Produce First Egg

One of our recently acquired chooks produced its first egg on Tuesday 9th June. Seen here in the photo is Jan ready for the 'taste test'. Delightful! 
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Monday, 8 June 2009

Lambing Period for Recently Acquired Ewes

I contacted the previous owner of our recently acquired ewes to ascertain the precise dates the ewes had rams with them leading to current pregnancy. From this we can then determine an accurate total lambing period, for planning purposes.
Here are the dates and forecast dates:
"Teasers" were introduced to the ewes on 2nd March 2009 and were removed on 16th March. The theory of having 'teasers' with the ewes is that it is supposed to heighten readiness for service.
Rams were introduced on 16th March 2009 and were removed on 20th April. Thus, based on the standard 150 day gestation period for sheep, we can expect the ewes to lamb from 12th August through to 16th September 2009, although there will be some variations outside these dates.

Grazing Plan through to Post Lambing

Yesterday morning we set aside a couple of hours to develop a plan for sheep moves through to the end of lambing, which should be around 20 September 2009.
Our objectives are to:
1. Move them past / through the sheep yards in the next few days when we will give them a booster (annual) vaccination. It is the right time now given they have only just arrived on our place and are about the right stage of pregnancy so that the lambs in situ will benefit as well.
2. Move the animals reasonably frequently ensuring good nutrition levels are maintained. We'd like to lift the condition score slightly to around 3 to maximise the ewes' ability to lamb comfortably and raise the lamb through to weaning.
3. Graze what we have designated the 'reserve lambing paddocks' first, meaning that they will have as much recovery time as we can give them before the next grazing. We expect this to be immediately post lambing but we may need this to be slightly sooner if the lambing paddocks end up not providing as much feed as we believe they should.
4. Graze all of the other paddocks except for the lambing paddocks prior to lambing. Importantly this will include the heavily timbered paddocks as it will be much more difficult to move ewes with lambs at foot through them later on. We expect that on average the time in each paddock will be around 4 to 6 days, and we will only remove 20 to 30 % of the existing herbage mass from each one.
5. Not graze any of the lambing paddocks prior to lambing to ensure maximum quantity and quality of feed. These paddocks will be 'set-stocked' during lambing to ensure the best mothering is provided. We have determined the lambing paddocks based on topography and tree cover (for shelter) and open grassland.
Now to implementing the plan and monitoring the results!

Observations: Sheep Grazing the Saddle Paddock

Yesterday we moved the sheep from the Saddle Paddock to the Duck Dam paddock. They were in the Saddle Paddock, which is just over 13 hectares in area, for 6 days in total. Our observations follow.
When we drove around the paddock in the utility to check on the sheep they at no time ran up to the vehicle, confirming that the previous owners were not in the habit of substitution feeding. For us this is a good thing as the animals don't tend to get unnecessarily excited and more importantly there is then no risk of someone accidentally running over any of them.
The Saddle Paddock and the Yabby Dam paddocks were recently 'created' out of us sub-dividing what was previously called the Contour Paddock into two. Under the previous set-up the sheep had their regular camp on the highest point of what is now the Yabby Dam Paddock ... on the southern border toward the east. Thus this was the first time sheep had grazed the 'new' Saddle Paddock.  They selected their new camp location on the highest point along the north eastern fenceline. This area has been bare ground for many years, due mainly to the impact of the trees just through the fence, but also in part due to firebreak maintenance. The animal impact of the sheep on the new camp site is apparent in the accompanying photograph. There is a heavy load of manure and urine now in place and it will be interesting to see how this area of land changes over time.
We had expected that the sheep would have found the dense stand of green pasture in the bottom of the creek and in the contour banks at various points particularly palatable and desirable. This proved not to be the case at all, with very little evidence of the sheep even walking through these heavily grassed areas. We received approximately 40 mm of rain during the 6 day period. The sheep did make an impact in breaking some of the mature capped areas of bare ground in the paddock. The hoof marks evident in this photograph will help in slowing run-off in the future to a limited extent at least.
We remain determined to leave leaf matter on the growing plants allowing for effective and immediate significant photosyntheses when the sheep leave the paddock. 
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This photograph gives an indication of what a large proportion of the paddock looked like close up as the sheep were moved out. To quote from one of the Holistic Management Certified Educators I work with from time to time "The more you leave, the more will grow".

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Conditions Suited to bird species Brown Treecreeper

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Jane Paul at a field day at Bathurst. She is an avid birdwatcher and a member of NSW Bird Atlassers Inc. Subsequent to this meeting I’ve been corresponding with Jane, seeking information on what we may or may not have done here on Ochre Arch that has seen the exit from a small area in what we now call the Hopbush Paddock of the bird species Brown Treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus) which have a NSW conservation status of ‘Vulnerable’.

Jane referred my query to Neville Schrader from who is very knowledgeable of birds Parkes who responded and advised:
"The Brown Treecreeper is one of about 20+ woodland species considered to be decliners or put bluntly headed for extinction. This can be contributed to over clearing and habitat fragmentation. Reid in his study of Threatened and declining birds in the NSW wheat belt 1999, identified that Brown Treecreepers (and Hooded Robin) needed both standing and fallen. Ford noticed around Armidale that the distribution of Brown Treecreepers decreased westward by 40 to 60 km over 30 years. What he established was that small isolated populations in a fragment landscape were untenable and considered this to be due to power dispersal in such a landscape. This agrees pretty well what is happening in this area (Parkes) the first to go was the small family populations in fragmented habitat and by 1998 the larger state forests were starting to decline in population. So I’m inclined to think there are a number of factors. One would suspect that if vegetation growth was the problem because the species spends a lot of time on the ground feeding then the drought should have seen the species recover. If you may recall the only pair of brown Treecreepers we got on our outing at the Atlas camp at Grenfell had good ground cover so whilst I don’t completely reject that it may have some influence in good years, I believe that there are a number of factors that is causing this species any many others to decline. I put this down to habitat size, loss of vegetation complexity and structure, species competition, feral animals competition.”

We’ve looked at each of the factors Neville raised to see whether our decision making may have impacted on the exit of the Brown Treecreepers. Here are our thoughts:
Habitat size: If anything habitat size is now expanding on our place, although only marginally
Loss of vegetation complexity and structure: Now improving
Species competition: I don’t know what the competitors are, so cannot comment
Feral animals competition: This may well be the main factor. We’ve done nothing to control foxes since taking over the place … so they may be worse.

So … our not controlling fox numbers may well be the problem. We will be addressing this shortly in conjunction with staff from the Lachlan Livestock Health and Pest Authority. Let’s hope the Brown Treecreepers return!

Our thanks go to both Neville (gave permission to publish his comments) and Jane for their help and input, as above.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Observations: Sheep Grazing the Spring Paddock

Our recently acquired sheep were in the Spring Paddock for a total of four days. What follows are some of the observations, together with a few pictures.
During the period the sheep did an excellent job in knocking down much of the aged dry herbage mass, placing it against the soil surface. This will act as a mulch (although only slight) and help stimulate activity within the soil. The length of time they were in the paddock was such that there is still good plant leaf area intact, which will enable the plants to continue photosynthesis and re-grow. This photo is fairly indicative of ground cover post grazing.
The paddock contained quite a number of plants which seemed to be unpalatable - mostly Curly Windmill grass and Purple Wiregrass. Both of these are native. There is a good side to this in that the general habitat is maintained, and we were especially pleased to note that several Quails were still in the paddock. This photo shows some of the Curly Windmill Grass plants, with some of the sheep in the background. The sheep themselves all appeared very bright and attentive. We were fascinated to observe:
1. They were totally silent
2. They seemed to graze the paddock in stages over the four days
3. In doing the above they stayed loosely together as a mob, and were very quick to bunch up densely when we were moving them.
4. Surprisingly they did not touch the long Couch Grass around the Spring itself, or take water from the Spring. Clearly there was sufficient moisture in the pasture to meet all of their water requirements.
There is at least some Dung Beetle activity in the paddock, although we did only see this one bit of evidence.
The Spring Paddock is now only just over 5 hectares in total area and this was the first time we'd grazed it at this size, having completed new fencing last year. The sheep seemed to have determined a new camp site, at the highest point and in the narrowest section of the paddock. Heavy dung and urine is now in this area, which we know will lead to a lessening of native perennial plants in the short term and promotion of high nitrogen tolerant annuals such as Stinging Nettles, Barley Grass and Marshmallows. That said, we are hopeful that the level of actual ground cover will increase.
The sheep camp area also happens to be across the farm track.
You can see in this photograph that they have done an excellent job in levelling out what was a mini-erosion area, although the longer term impact is as yet unclear.
We are hoping that the addition of the organic matter (dung and urine) and animal impact through breaking some of the soil capping will trigger more subsequent plant growth.