Sheep Husbandry for Small Farms 2017 summary

Small Farms Network Capital Region Sheep Husbandry Workshop

About the workshop

Doug Alcock demonstrating fat scoring
Doug Alcock demonstrating fat scoring

Our 2017 sheep husbandry workshop was delivered by Doug Alcock (Graz Prophet Consultants) in May to a packed house. The workshop covered a huge amount of ground about farming sheep in the Capital region. Our host was Craig Starr at Gold Creek Station (a mighty fine venue for country weddings and other celebrations).

Craig Starr from Gold Creek Station
Craig Starr from Gold Creek Station

These were the stand out topics for Kim and Nikki who attended the workshop:
1 Hands-on fat scoring
2 Hoof trimming
3 Pasture calculations
4 Lupins as dry feed
5 Using a calendar as a planning tool with rationales

Comparing fat scores of different sheep
Comparing fat scores of different sheep

Fat scoring

Fat scoring is a handy technique for assessing whether your sheep are fat, thin or just right. A fat score 1 is a very skinny sheep that needs attention. Fat score 5 is where you can hardly feel the ribs (and maybe the sheep needs to go in the diet paddock). Fat score 3 is a good place to be.

NSW DPI Primefact 302 Fat Scoring Sheep and Lambs has information about how to do fat scoring.

Sheep hoof trimming
Hoof trimming demonstration

Hoof trimming

Hoof trimming for sheep is done to help keep the feet healthy. Sometimes they get grit and gravel stuck between hoof layers and get infections. Here is some more information about hoof trimming, sometimes called foot paring.

If there is lots of wet weather and the sheep have a foot infection with a putrid smell then it could be footrot and you need a vet. See Primefact 265 Footrot in Sheep and Goats.

Pasture planning

Our pastures in the Southern Tablelands follow a somewhat predictable growth pattern with most pasture growth in September and October. To minimise the costs of supplementary feeding, it is helpful to match stocking rates to pasture growth. In dry years there will be less grass.

Graz Clock is a spreadsheet created by Doug that can be used to help with understandng pasture cycles and planning stocking.

The PROGRAZE course will teach you about how to manage pastures and grazing. Our newsletter will let you know when there are PROGRAZE courses starting in the Capital region or you can download the manual.

Learning how to estimate the pasture quality and quantity
Learning how to estimate the pasture quality and quantity

Supplementary feeding

If there is not enough grass and you want to keep your sheep then you will need to feed them extra. The amount to feed depends on the type of sheep (dry, pregnant, lambs, weaners) and the amount of grass in the pasture.

Feed such as wheat, barley, oats, corn or sheep nuts needs to be introduced slowly (say 50g/head/day for three days, then 100g/head/day and so on) so that you don’t poison your sheep. If they have never had the feed before then you need to be especially careful that a few brave sheep don’t eat the lot and die. Lupins are a safe option.

NSW DPI Primefact 331 Supplementary feeding of sheep in southern NSW  has more information.

Grazfeed is a program that calculates how much feed is needed. See Supplementary Feeding Sheep Autumn 2016 by Matt Lieschke for some Grazfeed calculations for a range of scenarios.

Lambing time

Generally it works best to time lambing so that lambs are being weaned when there is lots of grass. In the Southern Tablelands, lambing in August means that the young lambs can take advantage of the peak grass growing time (September/October) and minimises the amount of supplementary feeding needed.


Sheep have a 150 day gestation period so you need to put the rams in with the ewes in early March to get lambs in August. This is known as joining and can go on for about 5 weeks. You need to feed your rams well before this (lupins are good). Ewes will have more twins and triplets if they are fat score 3 or higher at joining.

Lamb marking

Lamb marking is generally done when the lambs are two to six weeks old. This can involve ear marking, ear tagging, castration, tail docking and vaccination.

Sheep husbandry workshop at Gold Creek Station
Visiting the yards and shearing shed at Gold Creek Station


In the merino wool industry, shearing has traditionally been done at the end of June but this means that the sheep have to use extra energy to keep warm instead of growing bigger lambs. If you shear sheep in winter you will need to give them supplementary feed.

Shearing in late November/early December can help reduce flystrike and problems with seeds burrowing into the skin.

It is best not to shear in the month before lambing when pregnant ewes need to spend lots of time eating.

Many meat sheep such as Dorpers don’t shed fully and may need shearing.

Mostly you need to shear when the shearer is available.

Fly strike

Sheep with wet fleece or dags can get flystrike in the warm months. This is where flies lay eggs on damaged skin and maggots hatch and feed on the skin. Usually this happens around the tail (breech strike) or along the back (body strike). Generally sheep with wool have more problems with flystrike. See the FlyBoss website for more information about treatment and prevention measures.

Crutching is shearing the wool from around the tail and inside back legs to keep dags off the breech area. This helps to reduce breech strike. It is often done before and during the fly season and prior to lambing.

Parasitic worms

There are three main types of intestinal worms affecting sheep in the Capital region: Barber’s Pole Worm, Brown Stomach Worm and Black Scour Worm. If left uncontrolled, these can kill your sheep. Best practice worm management combines pasture management, faecal worm egg counts (WEC) and effective drenching. You need to do regular WECs if you want to have any idea about what is happening with worms in your sheep.

Kate Sawford, District Veterinarian for the Braidwood Region has written a useful guide to Controlling Worms in Sheep in the Braidwood Region.

The WormBoss website has extensive information about managing worms in sheep and helps you decide when drenching is needed. The Capital region is in the WormBoss NSW non seasonal rainfall area.

Worm egg count test kits are available from South East Local Land Services offices and Cleanseeds in Bungendore. The test kit is free and has information about the costs for the tests.

Moving sheep around yards

Sheep need to be moved into and around yards for routine tasks such as fat scoring, shearing, hoof trimming, drenching and vaccinations. A sheep dog can help with this but many people on small farm holdings use a bucket with some feed rattling in it instead.

A bugle shaped layout for yards works well for funnelling sheep into a race or small space.

It is easiest to move sheep if you are beside them. The balance point is at their shoulder. If you move forward from this towards the head then the sheep will go backwards, if you move behind the balance point towards the back leg then the sheep moves forwards. Mostly it doesn’t work to stand behind the sheep. This all takes practise.

Drench gun for oral drenches
Drench gun for oral drenches

Drenching sheep

Drench is an oral treatment for worms. The WormBoss website provides extensive information about selection and use of drenches.

You need to know the weight of your sheep before drenching (so you need scales).

Drenching guns are often rather inaccurate in the doses they deliver. Use a beaker to collect a number of doses (say 8-10) to check for accurate volume.

Quarantine drench any new sheep arriving on your property and keep them in a quarantine paddock for at least three days. See NSW DPI Primefact 477 Quarantine Drenching – Don’t Import Resistant Sheep Worms.

Drenching at weaning is encouraged by Doug (even when WECs are low).

This video about drenching technique may be helpful.

Vaccinating sheep

Sheep are generally vaccinated with 5 in 1 or 6 in 1 vaccine. The vaccine is injected subcutaneously (under the skin), usually behind the ear on the neck.

This video about injecting technique may be helpful.

Other useful resources

Report from our Sheep Husbandry Field Day in 2016

NSW DPI ‘Sheep Agskills: A Practical Guide to Farm Skills’, available CSIRO Publishing.

J Court, JW Ware and S Hides ‘Sheep Farming for Meat & Wool’, available CSIRO Publshing.

Horse Property Planning key points

On the 25 March 2017 Stuart Myers from Equiculture and Jennie Curtis from Fresh Landscape Design presented a horse property planning seminar. Here is a summary and also some useful links:

  • Horses have evolved to eat a low protein, low fibre diet, walking and foraging in herds.
  • The domestication of horses and use of horses after the industrial revolution has guided often-used practices for stabling and managing horses – usually for human convenience. Horses don’t really like stables and would rather be in a yard if they have to be contained.
  • Most modern horses require the three F’s: friends, forage and freedom.
  • Horses can be used for grassland management by having a systematic approach to running horses as a herd and rotating paddocks.
  • The first step in horse property design is to perform a site analysis and understand the capacity of your land. The site analysis allows you to identify aspects of your property such as buildings, roads, waterways, boggy areas, dams, remnant bush and hilly areas. Locations for yards, working and stabling areas, lane ways, paddocks and revegetation sites can then be planned.
  • Design road access and lane ways to be wide enough for trucks and fire vehicles, allow a good turning circle at the end of lane ways.
  • By using good quality pasture hay in round bales you can rehabilitate areas of low ground cover by allowing the horses to feed in this area. The hay and manure will act a mulch and encourage pasture regeneration.
  • ‘Think like a horse’ – they want to be close to the feed source ‘YOU’. Horse owners can use this behaviour to their advantage by arranging gates, lane ways and paddocks that allow horses easy access to a central yard facility where water and feed is available. This way, the horses want to come into the yard when they see you there. Consider having an all-weather yard with a suitable surface (deep wood chip, rubber matting or earth). This makes management easier and also allows horses to be called and corralled in times of emergency.
Some useful links

Information about horses, fire and flood planning at the Equiculture website. This is a great resource with links to others to help you plan for emergencies.

Healthy soil = Healthy Pasture find out more about managing soils by watching the short videos @ the soils network of knowledge

The Soil Food Web

Equine Permaculture and Property Planning

Paterson’s Curse – Prime Fact Sheet on the weed and poisoning of horses.

NSW WeedWise Online- this website has lots of resources on weeds and livestock. Of particular interest for horse owners fireweed and crofton weed

Thanks to our hosts for the seminar. The event was made possible with funding from the Australian Government and support from South East Local Land Services and FuturePLANS.

Cattle Husbandry for Small Farms

Photo supplied Dianne Burgess

29 April 2017 9.00am-3.30 pm

This field day is for small to medium size property managers wanting to learn more about cattle husbandry. The topics covered will include breeds for small farms, pasture and feeding, worms and drenching, vaccinations, basic health and management.

Our guest speaker Greg Meaker is a practical and knowledgeable presenter with a lifetime of experience in cattle husbandry and management. Greg is based in the Gundaroo district in NSW and currently manages two livestock properties. He is a former educator at Tocal College and Beef Livestock Officer for the NSW Government Industry and Investment based in Goulburn. Greg delivered PROGRAZE to approximately 1200 producers in the region and facilitated PROGRAZE Plus. Greg also developed and delivered Stockplan, a registered training course designed to help beef cattle producers manage and prepare for drought.

There will be a practical cattle handling session for participants including how to move cattle in yards, information about routine care and management. There will also be an opportunity for landholders to ask questions and guide the content of the day.

The field day will be held in Sutton on a private property, address details will be provided on registration. Numbers are limited to 25 participants and bookings are essential. The cost is $ 27.13 (including booking fee) per person including morning tea and lunch


This event is made possible with funding from the Australian Government.


Healthy Land, Healthy Horse Summary

Hosts from Manna Park Geoff and Mark with Stuart Myers and Brad (on the pony)
Hosts from Manna Park Agistment Centre Geoff and Mark with Stuart Myers and Brad (on the pony)

The Healthy Land, Healthy Horse Field Day was a fascinating day packed with information for horse owners.  Geoff and Mark from Manna Park Agistment Center in Bywong provided a beautiful setting for Stuart Myers from Equiculture to share the Equiculture system of horse management. A range of topics were discussed from horse biology to the importance of maintaining a diversity of plant species on farm for grazing.

Some key messages were:

  • Horses thrive on a high fibre, low energy diet.
  • Encourage biodiversity. Plant and encourage a wide variety of plants and pasture species on your grazing land. Horses are adapted to using various herbs and shrubs in their diet. A varied diet can have medicinal benefits for the horse and helps diversity on the farm. Encourage remnant vegetation by fencing it off and planting shelter belts of native trees.
  • Running horses as a herd allows pastures to be managed productively. By using rotational grazing and planning paddock management, horse owners can reduce their reliance on supplementary feeding.
  • Focus on ‘grass farming’ by improving your knowledge of pasture species and encouraging them to self seed and proliferate. Horses can be used to spread mulch and beneficial pasture seeds by feeding them on bare areas of soil.
  • Use the ‘stubby test’, graze the pasture when it reaches the height of a stubby standing up and stop grazing when the stubby reaches the height of the stubby lying down.
  • Native grasses can be very beneficial to horse health and provide the low energy diet they need.
  • Concentrate key activities in specially designed areas eg. covered feeding areas and multi-use surfaces (grassed arenas that can be used for training and grazing). Watering points at a central site can reduce set up costs and encourage horses to get more exercise.

Some useful links and resources:

Information about moving horses in NSW

PIC information for horse owners

University of Maryland Rotational Grazing Institute

Weed information

Equicluture Resources and Books

Event partners

This field day is made possible with funding from the Australian Government. We also thank the following for their contribution:

  • ACT Regional Landcare Facilitator and ACT NRM with funding from the Australian Governments National Landcare Programme.
  • Future PLANS and Small Farms Network Capital Region – volunteer committees.
  • Geoff, Mark and volunteers from Manna Park Agistment Centre.

The Small Farms Network will be hosing another horse field day in 2017. Sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know about our events.


Feathers and Fowl Field Day Summary 7th September 2016

An excellent field day with a mix of practical and theoretical presentations and a farm tour.


Dr Jayne Weller from Exotic Animal Veterinary Service shared her knowledge of the anatomy of chickens and husbandry systems. She is also an expert in health and disease problems in poultry and spent time discussing the nutritional requirements for fowl and routine vaccinations. She also gave a demonstration to how to hold a bird and wing clipping.

Dr Kate Sawford from South East Local Land Services spoke on poultry diseases, exotic and zoonotic diseases of poultry, farm biosecurity and regulatory requirements for transport, egg and meat production.

Penny Kothe from Caroola Farm talked about meat bird production and care using organic principles. Penny concentrated on the considerations for commercial meat production of chicken, ducks and poultry.  A copy of Penny’s presentation can be viewed here



Penny Evans from Pendon Farm shared her expertise on free range egg production, what works in practice and her management system for laying hens.



According to participants Chris and Bronwyn the key take home messages were:

  • When designing a chicken coop for layers it’s a good idea to keep the nesting boxes at a lower level than the roosting perches to encourage the chooks to sit on the perches at night rather than in the nesting boxes, to reduce the amount of poo in the boxes – and as a bonus – clean eggs.
  • If you are not producing your own chicks (from existing chooks and roosters), try to stick to either buying immunised chicks or using one  trusted supplier to reduce the chance of introducing disease to your flock. If possible, quarantine new batches from existing birds for at least one month.
  • Commercial scratch feeds have varied amounts of protein in them – not only different brands but sometimes different batches from the same brand. Also, they rarely have the required amount of protein, so some additional protein sources are necessary.
  • Ordinary shell-grit is not a great source of calcium – generally, even when the chook’s gizzards grind the shell grit, ordinary shell-grit does not provide a readily absorbable form of calcium. Better options are either egg shells (may be crushed but not necessary), or oyster shells.
  • Diagnosing sick chooks is very difficult – even for vets- and often requires an autopsy. Many diseases and nutrient deficiencies can have similar presentations. Often, symptoms are noticed when it is already too late. Prevention of disease and nutrient deficiency is definitely the way to go.
  • To stop chooks flying, you cut seven primary feathers on both wings. Cutting the feathers on only one wing makes the chook unbalanced and they can hurt themselves.
  • You can make a quick pen using $50 temporary fence panels available from a will known hardware store with an electric wire around the bottom.
  • Chooks breathe in strange ways. They don’t have muscles to draw the air in. If you hold them to tight or squash them they can’t breathe.
  • There is an operation that vets can do to rescue egg bound hens. It costs about $2000 and the hen can’t lay eggs afterwards!

Resources and Information

Here is a collection of websites and information which may be relevant to your small farm.

NSW Food Authority website

Requirements for Small Egg Producers

Requirements for Small Egg Farms

Licensing information for meat and egg producers

Licensing for Meat Businesses

NSW Department of Primary Industries Primefacts and website

NSW Department of Agriculture Poultry Housing

NSW Department of Agriculture Agnote Poultry Keeping on a Small Scale

NSW Department of Primary Industries Poultry Website

Poultry Health Keeping Diseases Out

Small Scale Poultry Feeding

Recognising Exotic Diseases of Birds

Animal Disease Hotline – 1800 675 888

Backyard Poultry Forum

Tocal Agricultural College Agskills Series – Poultry Agskills

This event was made possible with funding from South East Local Land Services, in kind support from FuturePLANS and is supported by the ACT Regional Landcare Facilitator and funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. The Small Farms Network Capital Region thanks them all for their assistance that lets us deliver great events.

Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk

A group of new and prospective small farm owners gathered in November 2015 for the first field day for the Small Farms Network – Capital Region. The Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk was a friendly and information rich day held in Rossi on a small farm that has a mix of grazing land and native bush. Continue reading “Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk”

Fodder on farms – so much more than grass

Dr Dean Revell from Revell Science in Western Australia was the keynote speaker at the Fodder Trees and Shrubs for Grazing Systems field day hosted by the Small Farms Network – Capital Region in Bywong on 17 April. Over 35 farmers attended to learn about how native fodder trees and shrubs can be incorporated into livestock systems. Continue reading “Fodder on farms – so much more than grass”