A ST George wool grower has successfully used a drought lotting technique to lamb his 940 ewes in his yards with minimal losses.
Rod Avery, who leases the 2400 hectare property, Burgorah, north of St George, noticed the dry conditions worsening and knew he had to take the risk and begin hand feeding his pregnant ewes if he were to keep a large percentage of them alive.
He spent six to eight weeks feeding oat hay and cotton seed to the ewes which were split in three yards with about 300 head in each.
The small feeding cost of $25 per ewe was well worth it with Mr Avery only loosing 14 ewes or 1.49 per cent, compared with what he expected would have been closer to 20 per cent ewe losses.
Adding to the successful feeding program was rainfall of 110mm in the 10 days before Mr Avery let his breeders back out into the green pick paddocks on October 9.
He expects to have 90 per cent of his lambs survive, including a large portion of twins.
It was the first time Mr Avery had used drought lotting since the 1990s when he was part of a similar drought lotting trial with the DPI.
Many trials have been done since that time and the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries lists on their website that among the benefits of drought lotting is less need to restock due to the breeding flock being maintained alive.
“Lambing percentages could be doubled in some circumstances and there is evidence to suggest that cleaner wool is produced from drought-lotted sheep,” it reads.
In the Australian Wool Innovation Limited report, Managing Sheep in Droughtlots, it was found that while feeding the sheep on pasture with supplementary feed can be beneficial it results in “a loss of productive pasture species and a reduction is soil fertility due to erosion”.
Mr Avery said his attempt this season wasn’t an experiment and he spent quite some time researching.
“I’ve sort of fed sheep over the years and every time you try and feed them it is still a half done job, you still have ewe losses and at this stage I’ve only lost 1.5 per cent of ewes lambing, not from feed lotting” he said.
“We had nothing in the paddock, we didn't have any roughage. Generally I’ll have lick out or if I can get cotton seed but there was just no dry grass.”
Mr Avery joins his ewes from Anzac Day with lambing beginning in the third week of September.
After installing a low exclusion fence to relive his wild dog problems and building his flock up to 19 to 20 microns, Mr Avery knew the expense of feeding his ewes was worth it for the price they were returning.
He said unlike in well-known sheep areas like Dirranbandi, where they could grow herbage off winter rain, his country was buffel and he wasn’t prepared to wait for a break to grow grass.
But, he had already seen the positive influence spelling the country had since the recent rain.
“It’s not cheap but when sheep are worth a quid, you can afford to spend some money," he said.
“Years ago sheep were only worth $10 or $20, now you are talking hundreds or more. The thing is these lambs will have a good start to life, the ewes still are healthy and they just go ahead.”