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Case study: Using containment feeding in recovery

Rick and Annie Morris at Gradi Downs on Kangaroo Island

On Gradi Downs, at Karatta on Kangaroo Island, Rick and Annie Morris had 90% of their farmland burnt in the fire that arrived on 3 January, 2020. “It was a crucial time of year in the lead-up to mating for our ewes,” Rick says. So they decided to keep and feed their remaining ewe flock, using containment areas.

“I wanted the control, to be able to monitor their condition score and put my hands on them, in the lead-up to mating. I also considered biosecurity: I didn’t want to be sending them away to the mainland on possibly dirty trucks, considering footrot.”

Rick had never used containment areas like these before on the farm. “We had a consultant and three farmers come and consult to us on pen design. We set up three pens along a common fence line. Each one was 100 m by 100 m, so I could drive around 3 edges with my feed-out cart. Luckily we had unlimited water through a solar pump 6 km away from the pens, so we trenched in some more pipes and put troughs into the pens.”

Good pen design was complemented with efficient feed delivery approaches. “I had to use a smaller auger to feed the grain out, dropping the grain just inside the fence. Then we had double round roll hay racks; we put two rolls of straw inside them over the fence. And then Annie would go in with the hay and the feed-out cart, on the ground. It was really time- efficient to feed them in there; I could feed 4000 sheep in about an hour.”

Knowing how much to feed was also essential for success. “I’d done the Lifetime Ewe Management course before, and having those skills was really helpful to be able to do feed budgets. We had so much control over their condition score and mating was very successful.” The containment pens are also useful for the future of the farm. “Depending on the season, we will use the pens again. It gives us the ability to better manage our groundcover over the summer.”

Unfortunately, the farm did experience a disease outbreak in the months after the fire, leading to an abortion storm in the ewes caused by the infectious bacteria, Campylobacter. The disease appears to have spread due to the animals being in close contact. “Unfortunately, my flock was totally naïve to Campylobacter. I think it just came in at the most unfortunate time, and it just went through them. So what I will do from now is just vaccinate the ewe lambs each year. But that abortion storm was pretty stressful.”

Rick’s advice to others who find themselves in the same situation is: “Try and make a plan. Get in and have a good look at the farm plan, and then try and utilise the labour you do have as best as possible. Make a plan to get the materials in to set things up the way you need them.”