Colin McCrabb checking the mob of agistment cows slowing eating their way through a spectacular amount of winter pasture. “We have 100 Angus cows with calves in a 200ha paddock and it is difficult to see where they are.”

Protecting valuable livestock against loss

As the 2016 season moves toward summer, two priorities are Colin McCrabb’s focus … firstly to make as efficient use of the terrific pasture growth as is possible, and secondly, to minimise the risk of loss of the valuable Merino flock.

Back in August, he took steps to utilize excessive growth of balansa clover, trikkala sub-clover and ryegrass on his irrigation block and contracted the storage of 1000 tonnes of silage.

“I have done it for my children, as I hope I never have to use it,” he said.

“We might even be able to cut some hay of the irrigation, and it will also provide pasture for our weaners to keep them free of grass seed.”

To further take advantage of the available feed, Mr McCrabb is currently agisting 300 grown cattle and he anticipates having them until the end of January.

“We have 100 Angus cows with calves in a 200ha paddock and it is difficult to see where they are,” he said.

“They are also ‘knocking’ the feed down so our sheep will be able to move more easily through the long grass.”

Further, Mr McCrabb had 62km of firebreaks sprayed from the air during the middle of August.

Those 30m wide strips are now providing some clear area for sheep to move, and as the country dries out, he intends to spray and slash tracks, especially to water points.

“Hopefully when the fire danger is high, we will have bare areas around the water and firebreaks for the sheep to move to,” he said.

“In a season like this we can’t run enough stock, but I can make plans to reduce our risk.”

Along with the aforementioned firebreaks to assist with reducing stock loss, Mr McCrabb has also attended to the health of his sheep.

“We have just shorn 1900 one year ewes and had only 15 with flystrike and this is with no chemical protection, apart from this the health of our sheep is excellent” he said.

Mr McCrabb has attended Lifetime Ewe Management and Weaner Management courses, and ascribes lessons learnt from those courses to the improved performance of his flock, through closer attention to the feeding of his sheep..

He has also been taking faecal egg counts for the past ten years, and only drenches his sheep if the count is high.

The latest count, taken in early October shows a high of 140 eggs per gram, which does not warrant drenching, and the 2015 drop maiden ewes show a zero recording.

“That is quite a good result because of the wet season, as they have not been drenched since November last year, when they were treated at weaning,” Ken McCrabb said.

“They have been stocked at a bit under six per hectare for the past six months, and they show no sign of being ‘wormy’.

“We seem to have some resistance in our sheep.”

Flystrike in a wet season is always of great concern, and Colin McCrabb will monitor his stock through the summer but his sheep, now being shorn, will be at less risk due to short wool growth.

“We have been shearing twice a year for the past three years, and have found many benefits,” he explained.

“We are getting 75mm for six months and over four kilos, which is in demand from processors because of its high tensile strength and high yield with low vegetable matter.”

Mr McCrabb further noted his ewes are in better condition for joining, and in a season like this, mustering and handling is made easier as the ewes aren’t carrying heavy and long-stapled fleeces through the wet grass if they had been shorn in the traditional manner each 12 months.

“One of our clients, the Davis family near Corowa, calculated they are $10.22 per head better off with two shearings,” he said.

“They also found the health of their ewe flock was improved, and they held their condition over summer.”

Grass seed infestation is of concern during a good spring and this year is no different, with large areas of barley grass but Mr McCrabb has contingency plans in place to reduce as much as possible the effect.

“We will have our irrigation which will carry a lot of sheep, and there are a few paddocks with less barley grass,” he said.

“We also have a bit of corkscrew on our northern country, but those paddocks have been destocked of sheep and we have our cattle there.”

Mr McCrabb still has some of his country covered with water, and hopes it will dry soon before the standing feed begins to rot.

“It has been good to have relatively cool days, as it is letting the country dry out without ‘cooking’ it, but I still expect to lose some pasture.”