At Pienaarsrivier, a grain and sheep farm near Riversdale in the Southern Cape, farm owner Kobus Horne and his sheep production manager, Dirk Liebenberg, have significantly improved production efficiency and reduced costs through their use of technology and a carefully planned management system.
One of the most noticeable features of the farm is the careful way in which the production facilities have been positioned and structured for the animals’ comfort and for ease of movement and management. The handling facility, shearing shed, feedlot, lambing shed, feed mill and camps for rams, in-lamb ewes, and ewes with lambs are all set within a radius of a few hundred metres.
COMPUTERISED SCALE SYSTEM
At the handling facility, which is set out in the shape of a wagon wheel, Liebenberg and his team use a computerised scale that sorts the animals into one of five pens based on preprogrammed instructions. The animals are sorted primarily according to weight, and the ewes are separated according to the number of lambs they are carrying. The computer identifies the animals by reading their radio frequency identity tags, which are attached to their ears when they are two days old.
“Where we used to take at least six hours to weigh and sort 1 200 sheep, we’re now able to do so in less than two hours,” says Liebenberg.
The technology also allows for better utilisation of labour and enables Liebenberg and his team to monitor the growth of feedlot animals more carefully.
“Animals in the feedlot are weighed weekly and sold as soon as they weigh 48kg. We also sell those that aren’t picking up weight anymore, as we can’t afford to keep freeloaders.”
The farm has three production groups, each comprising 1 200 Merino ewes. The ewes lamb every nine months, in January, October, April or July depending on the group’s production cycle.
Each group is divided into four subgroups, each of 300 ewes, to spread the lambing season over the month. The aim, says Liebenberg, is to obtain new lambs every second week, stretched over six weeks.
The farm boasts a weaning percentage of 140% per season, but having four lambing cycles in three years pushes the weaning percentage up to an impressive 180% per year. This translates into 1 800 lambs for every 1 000 ewes that reproduce each year, as opposed to 1 400 if there were only one lambing season a year.
The ewes are synchronised for breeding when their lambs are weaned at 100 days old, with first-timers being included in the group once they reach 48kg. The farm’s top-performing animals, making up one of the four subgroups, are superovulated for laparoscopic insemination with semen from two rams bought in for the purpose.
“The idea with the top subgroup is to improve the farm’s genetic stock. The selection of rams to use on the group will therefore be based on specific traits that we might want to improve,” says Liebenberg.
The other three subgroups are placed with teaser rams before being serviced by the fertile rams. A ratio of one ram for every five ewes is used and they are run together for just three days.
Two weeks later, the ewes are placed for 17 days with Dormer rams, which service those ewes that failed to conceive with the first breeding attempt.
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