By Kirra Grimes
SHEEP graziers can begin to breathe a sigh of relief, having almost made it through one of the most difficult lambing seasons in recent years.
August saw weather warnings issued to graziers across Gippsland several times, as cold temperatures, heavy rain and strong winds presented the increased risk of losses of lambs and sheep.
Feeling the effects locally were Burke and Bronwyn Brandon, who milk 150 East Friesian/British cross ewes to make cheese at their Moyarra farm.
They’ve been doing their best to protect the ewes and their 300 or so newborn lambs from the elements, but it hasn’t been easy going, with the conditions presenting a range of challenges to contend with, from infections to feed shortages.
“We’re really hanging out for spring,” Bronwyn told the Sentinel-Times last week, describing the recent weather as “obnoxious”.
“We’ve had to try and choose paddocks carefully for the ones with the best shelter; the ones that aren’t too flat and wet,” Burke said.
“But we’ve still had losses. A few weeks ago, there was a nine-degree day where it just kept raining and we lost an ewe and five lambs.
“They died overnight from exposure; and that was in a sheltered paddock.”
They have had wetter years, Burke said. “Two years ago, the sheep had nowhere dry to lie down. Every inch was underwater.”
But this winter has been colder than any in recent memory.
“All you can do is make sure they’ve got shelter and full bellies,” Bronwyn said.
For the Brandons, that means bringing in cow’s milk from their friend Nadine Verboon’s Wattle Bank farm to supplement the lambs’ feed, as it’s been “so cold and so wet that the grass isn’t growing, so the ewes aren’t producing enough milk”.
It also means hand rearing lambs in a shed from two days old, rather than leaving them with their mothers longer to get used to pasture and build up immunity.
“We were trialling leaving the lambs on the ewes to give them a better start so they could be weaned younger, but the weather got so wild, we had to bring them into the shed,” Bronwyn said.
“But then their immunity isn’t as good. So, if one gets pneumonia, it passes through the shed very quickly.”
Overall, the Brandons haven’t seen a big increase in stock losses, but that’s down to them being prepared to adapt to the conditions, they said.
“We haven’t really lost more than previous years. It’s been about on par, because we’ve been flexible with our management,” Bronwyn said.
“And we’ve also learnt a lot about things we could do to improve our systems.”