A Lean, Mean Sheepproducing Machine
Farmer's Weekly|October 02, 2020
Sheep production has become a numbers game, with an operation’s profitability being largely dependent on the farmer’s ability to produce large numbers of sheep at low cost. Farm manager Dirk Liebenberg spoke to Glenneis Kriel about how he achieves this goal.
Glenneis Kriel

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.”

MANAGEMENT

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.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM FARMER'S WEEKLYView All

The Boathouse

Seclusion. Quiet. Natural beauty. There’s plenty of all three at The Boathouse on Boskop Dam, a delightful spot where you can relax, do a bit of fishing, canoeing, and birding, and watch gorgeous sunsets from the waterside deck. Riaan Hattingh reports.

4 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Putting an end to the problem of food waste

In South Africa, about 30% of local agricultural production is wasted every year, which is equivalent to an estimated R60 billion, or around 2% of GDP. In a country where 30% of households are at risk of hunger, 31% experience hunger and 13 million children live in poverty, this waste is unsustainable and needs to change, says James Brand, a senior associate in ENSafrica’s Natural Resources and Environment department.

5 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Crop spraying

The knapsack sprayer is ideal for controlling small outbreaks of pests, as it’s economical, can be applied quickly, and is very accurate, says Bill Kerr.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Worthy winners: a robot harvester and an innovative planter

Of the 16 silver medals awarded by the German Agricultural Society, organiser of the 2022 Agritechnica Innovation Awards, one went to the manufacturers of an autonomous robot for broccoli harvesting, while another recognised an implement that combines sowing and crop residue management.

2 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

How intensive sheep farmers can improve traceability and profits

Intensive sheep farming has given eastern Free State farmer Gareth Angus the opportunity to increase his lambs’ survival rate, boost profits and ensure traceability from birth to farm gate, while also decreasing predation and elemental risk. Susan Marais visited Angus’s farm during the 2021 LRF Stockman School.

6 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

How to save money in 2022

With the Christmas tinsel tidied away for another year, it’s time to face the economic realities of 2022. For many farmers, this means focusing on how to ensure a profit in the face of soaring input costs. Susan Marais asked industry experts for their suggestions on how to cut expenses without compromising farming operations.

7 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Protecting the rhino through translocation

Due to the demand for rhino horn, populations of this iconic mammal have declined over the years. One solution to this is to introduce rhino species into other environments. Mike Knight, chairperson of the African Rhino Specialist Group at the International Union for Conservation of Nature, describes the process of translocation.

5 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Good weather predicted for summer 2022

Favourable weather patterns have been forecast for the Southern African Development Community countries in 2022. High rainfall, for example, is predicted for South Africa‘s summer grain production region. Annelie Coleman reports.

3 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Balancing risk to build a table grape brand

When the Beukes brothers expanded their table grape farming operation from the Hex River Valley to Brandwacht near Worcester in the Western Cape, they had no idea of the challenges this would bring. Jacques Beukes shared some of the lessons they learnt with Wouter Kriel.

8 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022

Are you geared towards these developing trends?

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of digital integration and sped up advances crucial to the future success of many industries, including agriculture. Lindi Botha reports on the main trends that will influence farming this year.

7 mins read
Farmer's Weekly
January 21, 2022