How intensive sheep farmers can improve traceability and profits
Farmer's Weekly|January 21, 2022
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.
By Susan Marais, Photography by Susan Marais

Long gone are the days when sheep were produced on sleepy farms where the animals were simply left on the veld for days without having any contact with the farmer. These days, farmers have to manage their flocks with far greater care due to the risks posed by stock theft and predation.

Gareth Angus runs Merino sheep, cattle (Simmentaler and Simbra) and game with his father on Wisp-Will Farm near Arlington in the eastern Free State. He is in charge of the sheep component.

SPRING AND AUTUMN LAMBING

“We divide the sheep into two flocks: a spring and an autumn-lambing flock,” Angus says.

The spring group lambs from the beginning of September until mid-October, while the autumn group lambs from mid-May until the end of June. Both do so in staggered subgroups. “Each group of ewes lambs once a year. As a result, we have two lambing seasons per annum.”

All maiden ewes (two-tooth) are put to the ram at 18 months old. Teaser rams are used initially for 11 days at three or four rams per 100 ewes, followed by breeding rams for 34 days at the same ratio.

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“I believe young ewes should first be opened naturally before receiving sponges or [controlled internal drug release], which releases progesterone to suppress ewes’ heat or oestrus, as their vaginal canal is still narrow at 18 months and the device used to administer a sponge for synchronisation sometimes hurts them,” says Angus.

After the ewes have lambed for the first time, they are synchronised.

“Every season, I synchronise two to three groups of ewes of about 240 to 260 ewes per group about 10 days apart, after which natural mating takes place.” Each ram covers between four and six ewes.

Angus has ingeniously converted an old bale shed, built years ago by his grandfather, Willy, into a lambing shed. It houses 150 lambing pens of 2,5m² each. “This is a good-sized [pen] for Merino ewes,” he says. “Meat breeds need a larger pen.”

The shed is the ideal facility for the lambing pens, as the animals are sheltered from the elements by the roof and the dirt floor remains dry. “I only let ewes carrying multiples lamb in these pens. Usually, between 45% and 60% of my ewes carry multiples. All the pens are therefore filled every 14 days.”

Gareth Angus farms alongside his father, Llewellyn. Amongst other responsibilities, he runs the intensive sheep farming component of the farm.

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