January 23, 2013
Lambs – getting more and keeping them alive – are the main focus for the Hardie family’s business at Muttaburra. John and Joy Hardie run 5000 Merinos on 12,000 hectares at Verastan and have put a three-pronged strategy in place to boost lambing rates. For the past five years they have been averaging less than 50 per cent of lambs, in a district with a long-term average of 65pc, and know they have to bring that number up. “We’ve got to do better or we won’t survive,” John said. “We’ve decided to put wool to one side for now and concentrate on our lambings.” As well as employing the principles of the Bred Well Fed Well program, they are testing for brucellosis and trying to keep wild dogs in check. Under the Bred Well Fed Well regime, sheep are mobbed according to their condition rather than age, apart from maiden ewes, and fed accordingly. “If you don’t want to supplement, you should at least give your lightest ewes the best paddock,” Joy said. This is what they did when they joined in November, and they will be following that up with a plan to scan for twins in coming weeks. According to John, tradition says not to try to rear twins, as the poorest won’t survive. “This is where you can make the gains, though,” he said. “We’re trialling a small mob and are willing to give it a go. “There are things such as feed costs and the value of your sheep that come into the decision, too.” Twin-bearing ewes will be fed a ration of lupins. They measured 750mm of rain in 2012, well over the long-term average of 450mm, and spread out through the year. “That doesn’t necessarily turn into good nutrition, though,” John said. All the pregnancy scanning being done by the Hardies has also revealed poor conception rates, even though they fed their ewes prior to joining. This led them to test their rams for brucellosis, which gave then a surprising number of positives. Of 30 rams tested, only seven now remain. This is despite always palpating rams prior to joining each year. While some say that all flocks have brucellosis to varying degrees, the Hardies suspect that Coolalee rams brought on to Verastan could have been a source of infection. They’ve since purchased a new crop of rams from Well Gully Poll Merino Stud at Mitchell and kept them apart from the existing rams prior to joining. “We’re going to scan in early February, so we’ll be able to see then if that’s made any difference,” John said. Once they get lambs on the ground, the battle is on to keep them out of the jaws of wild dogs, and the Hardies use a combination of baiting, hot-wire fencing around timbered country and guardian dogs. So far, the Maremmas have proved their worth, after 80pc of lambs were marked from the paddock they were patrolling.