Agronomist Ben Creek has seen the value of confinement feeding sheep at the break of season after running a small trial at his Boyup Brook farm.
“It’s something I’ve thought about for the last couple of years purely to defer pastures, because in Boyup, the last three years have been very challenging. We haven’t got those early breaks that we normally do. You hit cold weather and nothing grows much.”
By taking stock out of paddocks at the break of season, pastures have a chance to establish before being grazed, which typically increases their productivity for the rest of the year. In addition, the risk of soil erosion and nutrient loss caused by low paddock groundcover is reduced.
While deferral can be done by putting stock into a “sacrificial” paddock, many farmers are now investing in infrastructure to limit the area sacrificed and feeding in confined areas that reduce daily animal energy requirements, makes feeding quicker and easier and allows better monitoring of stock health and weight.
After seeing other farmers in the South West achieve some impressive outcomes with confinement feeding, Ben set up three pens on his 1,700-hectare farm to defer grazing in four of his paddocks.
“Our confinement was very basic. I had one pen with 780 weaners on eight hectares, which was on the larger side. Another pen had 800 adult ewes on three hectares, and then I had another 600 on two hectares.
“On the whole I had a pretty good result. While I haven’t put a value on it yet, the paddocks that were deferred showed a great response.
“Two of the deferred paddocks were reseeded, and whereas I could normally only give them four weeks before grazing, I was able to leave them out for eight weeks. One of those paddocks, which is a 55-hectare ex blue-gum paddock, was sown with oats, ryegrass and clover and the feed was just insane. I’ve had to put weaners in with ewes that are lambing just to get on top of it, so it doesn’t go rank.”
While the trial has encouraged Ben to build pens and order trees for a shelterbelt later in the year, he admits that he made some mistakes and learnt a lot from his first experience.
“If I learnt one thing it’s that feeding has got to be in troughs, on rubber, or in one of those new feed-tech systems. I had 20 metres of rubber (conveyor belt) to feed on, but it just wasn’t long enough and not curved to create a trough, so we just fed on the ground which isn’t ideal. I think going forward, I’d like to buy a centerless auger system, because we sometimes opportunity feed-lot lambs as well, and that would finish generally in late autumn/early winter when you start confinement feeding.
“Automated systems are a great idea. Cost margins on a sheep enterprise are pretty good at the moment, so $10,000 isn’t a big outlay. You need a silo to go with it, but everyone’s got field-bins sitting there at harvest, or a second-hand silos not a lot.”
With lots of vital considerations such as site selection and water availability, confinement feeding will be discussed at the upcoming Rylington Park Spring Field Day, located on the Boyup Brook-Cranbrook Road, from 9 am on Friday 25 September (RSVP not required). For more information on this event, call Erlanda Deas on 08 9765 3012. More information on confinement feeding is available at both the MLA and DPIRD websites.