Farming Together boosts sheep group’s feed-focus

Feed testing has now become a regular event on Steve Jarvis’ NSW sheep property, a direct beneficial result of participating in the Farming Together program.

The South West Slopes poll merino breeder is also now feeding his flock more regularly after farmer group discussion days proved the improved return on costs.

Farming Together funded the discussion sessions for the Boorowa/Harden sheep farmers with vet and farm management consultant, Andrew Whale from Hamilton, V.

Other farmers in the group have reported less dystocia, with lower ewe and lamb mortality rates, and best-ever lamb marking results following improved nutrition – all due to the consultation sessions.

An Australian Government program, Farming Together helps primary producers Australia-wide form co-ops and collaborations to secure better margins and boost farmgate returns.

Others in the group are Bill Hurley, Oscar Smith, Keith Smith and Jamie Brown. Altogether, the farmers manage a total flock of about 15,000 in country averaging 640mm annual rainfall. Good weather conditions, coupled with reproduction advice from Andrew, has seen better fecundity and lambing averages, Steve said, adding that increasing grain allocation to the ewes had improved body condition.

“Before, I was reluctant to supplementary feed the animals, it was an extra cost I didn’t like. But now I know a lot more about the economics and the gain you get from feeding. And feed testing is something I do now.”

He has also started selective feeding. “We treat sheep more individually. Instead of just feeding the whole mob of sheep, I pick out the lighter ones and feed them up. It’s saving me feed and time,” he said.

Steve said Andrew’s experience as a vet was also invaluable. “In the past when lambing hasn’t gone well, for example lamb mortalities, he’s now helping us understand why. He’s put a reason behind what’s gone wrong, or right, and now we know how to repeat – or avoid – it.”

He added that the sessions have been useful for forward-planning for seasonal challenges: too much rain at lambing, or too little rain in summer.

The group has also been receiving advice from agronomist Janelle Jenkins, discussing options for improving pasture as well as thistle and barley grass infestation.

Steve said: “Every time we have a meeting we learn something. And we also learn from each other. It’s been really good. And while it’s hard to put a dollar value on it, it’s about managing the flocks better. We’re all just more aware, more exact in what we do.”

Andrew said: “It is a great learning environment for the producers. They are all experienced, busy sheep producers, but taking a day away from the farm every second month to learn from others – both myself and the other group members – is proving to be motivating and stimulating.

“Every producer has areas that they can improve on, but identifying those areas that need attention is a difficult thing to do when you are trapped in your own environment most days of the year.

“We use an app to communicate when the farmers have questions, so the whole group gets exposure to the question and answer,” he said. “Last week one of the members was surprised with how high the worm burdens were in his sheep, so he told the group. That reminded everyone of the need to test.

“I feel the group has definitely improved their businesses due to the Farming Together program,” Andrew said.

Farming Together provided Andrew’s services to the farmer group as part of its expert support stream.  This offers farming groups independent professional advice, feedback and guidance from business experts in a variety of fields.

Farming Together program director Lorraine Gordon said: “Farmer discussion groups are a powerful way of sharing information, but often need direction from a specialist. Farming Together has assembled around 200 of Australia’s leading agri-consultants who are providing specialist help to more than 700 groups, involving more than 20,000 primary producers nationally – and all within 14 months.

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