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Training course - best thing to happen to sheep industry in 20 years farmers say

Across the Murray region small groups of sheep farmers are meeting in sharing sheds for what has been called 'the best thing to happen to the sheep industry in 20 years'. And when sheep farmers are saying this, you know it must be good.

Since commencing in 2010 AWI the Sheep CRC's Life Time Ewe Management Course has an envious track record of increasing on-farm productivity and profitability. These results include increasing lamb marking percentages by 10-14%, increasing farm profit annually by up to $10 / ewe and decreasing ewe mortality by 43%. 

What makes the Life Time Ewe Management course different from other agricultural related courses and workshops?

"Its unique ability to take the practical and proven aspects from the last 30 years of research and present it in a way farmers can relate to and apply to their own enterprise" says Gen Reardon, Livestock Officer with Murray Local Land Services. 

The course also has a long list of supporting farmers "I reckon it's the best course I have done in 20 plus years because its hands on, practical and relevant to my day-to-day application and importantly profitable - it relates to your own enterprise straightaway" says Colin McCrabbe from Wanganella. Colin, along with his wife Amanda, run Avondale Merino Stud at Wanganella, NSW. Colin has completed Year 2 of Life Time Ewe Management and feels it was well worth the time and money. 

David McDonald from Barham, NSW is another course advocate. David has commenced the 2nd year of LTEM and has used the course to improve his supplementary feeding program, especially as cost of irrigation increases. "I knew the changes had to be made, I just needed the technical and practical assistance and outside guidance to make those changes" David said. 

Under the guidance of the course educator, farmers discuss individual options with other landholders in their group and this can make all the difference. "Getting the experiences of people in your group as they make the changes has been a big help" said David. 

The groups of just 4 - 6 local farmers meet 6 times during the year, which works well according to David
"Having a small group where you can discuss options and develop a better relationship with the group is good", he said.

Throughout the course, the landholders each monitor a mob of their ewes over the 12 months, honing their skills in condition scoring, pasture management and other best management practices to increase lambing percentages and wool or meat production. "Without condition scoring you don't know where you're at - the course shows you where you need to go" says Colin. 

LTEM also gives landholders a chance to discuss any looming management issues such as dry conditions or unexpected health issues.

"We can address issues specific to our environment and our enterprise structures" said Colin.

"It's been a great opportunity to interact and discuss matters with neighbours and like-minded, local people"
Last year the McCrabbes had their lowest ever mortality rate, which Colin attributes to being able to better manage the nutritional requirements of his flock.

"Year One of Life Time Ewe helped us better understand the physiology of our lambs from birth to weaning, and make a better milk-pasture diet transition", he said 

The course takes simple concepts and combines them with the landholder's existing knowledge, so is well suited to new people starting out, as well as the older generation who have a wealth of experience but may not be up with the latest research. 

"My dad came along just for interest and he loved it - it was all the stuff he knows but the instructor had the figures to back it up and explain it" says Colin. 

The participants look at current management techniques and associated costs, compared with what they could be getting by simply tweaking existing practices such as joining periods or dates, or when to move the sheep into the next paddock.

"Many of the benefits are minor management changes that landholders can make on-farm without a lot, or any, new financial investment, says Gen Reardon.

"Life Time Ewe Management brings the last 20 years' research right into the landholders sheep yards in a real and practical way that makes sense to the landholders".

Murray Local Land Services has assisted Central Murray Bestwool / Bestlamb group, the Southern Riverina Sheep Breeders group and the new Central Murray Ag group, and several agricultural based community groups, in supporting over 50 landholders to complete the first year of the LTEM course. 

Importantly the course relates back to dollars and cents - knowing how to get the entire mob at the right condition score, not 'the top portion', at the right time, can significantly increase lambing percentages. Knowing key mortality triggers helps landholders understand how to keep more alive.

Colin Crabbe says that the greatest improvements in production from my sheep have come from minor management changes. "Just running your hand over ½ dozen up the race, you really know whats happening as opposed to just looking and guessing.

"The ability to plan ahead - it gives you a clear focus on decision making" says David. 

For further information on Life Time Ewe Management Courses in the Murray region contact Gen Reardon, Murray Local Land Services on 0409 077 254.

Caption for photo: Colin McCrabbe checking a mob of ewes and lambs on his "Avondale", Wanganella, NSW.

For more information contact: Gen Reardon 0409 077 254 or 02 6051 2253