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May 2002

From Desert to Snow

1. Damaras are Moving, from Desert to Snow

From our little operation here in the wilds at Rosevale, we have now exported Damaras from Darwin to Charters Towers, and from to Mitchell to Casino. Naturally most go locally, but they do travel well. Over in Western Australia, John Hall is exporting to Mexico and boatloads are still going to the Middle East from WA and SA. Damaras are thriving in diverse environments from the deserts of South Africa (and Rosevale) to the snows of British Colombia.

Transport vehicles that turn up to collect sheep have to be seen to be believed. They range from huge classy horse floats to bird cages on wheels - one buyer even drove off with a large F2 ram inside a sedan car (with two kids too). What we like to see turn up is a ute or truck with a good sheep proof crate with a sliding door. Such a vehicle can back up to our loading ramp, and all is easy. But we have a moveable ramp and have not yet encountered a transporter we cannot load onto.

People ask about carriers. Dick Smith, based in Dubbo, carries sheep all over Australia. (Phone 02 6882 2463). Naturally if only a few sheep are involved, it is best to wait until Dick can combine with other loads to your district. We would be pleased to hear of other livestock transporters people can recommend. We have a Ute which will carry up to about 10 sheep, and a truck which will fit up to about 20, but not a lot of spare time. (But sufficient monetary incentive can produce time!)

2. Fences in the Mind

Damaras usually cause no trouble with fences, but some other sheep breeds are a pain - they learn to become fence runners - as long as they can get a nose under the bottom wire, they dash under into a new paddock - a real annoyance for people like us who use cell grazing.

The most effective fence for any animal, is one that is built in their mind, early in life. The best time to build such a fence is in weaner lambs. Their first experience with electric fences must be so memorable and so unpleasant that they never rub noses with a fence again. Our weaner lambs spend the first week of separation in a secure yard. Then they go into a small paddock with a good three-wire electric fence. We try to ensure the fence is good with high power, so that the experience on a tender nose is very unpleasant. But . . . if a lamb learns to be a fence runner from its mother, it is hard to break the habit (that's why Ghenghis Khan killed all kids of defeated enemies who stood higher that a wagon wheel - by then they had set ideas). Our wanderer lambs are also for sale! Good sheep for those with good fences.

3. Damaras are Profitable

The following figures were compiled by Greg & Loraine Ayson - Bidura Station, Balranald and reported by Denis Russell in the Genelink Livestock Newsletter, Feb 2002.

The Station is in the low rainfall area with grazing of shrubs bush and grasses. Figures are taken from actual returns. Note number of rams used for each enterprise and percentage of lambs raised to sale.

Merino-Damara Comparison
4000 Merino Ewes 4000 Merino Ewes joined to Damara
Income Income
Wool 6.5Kg @ $4 $104,000 Wool 6.5Kg @ $3.75 $97,500
80% of lambs 3200   100% of lambs 4000  
Sale of 1600 W lambs @ $35 $56,000 2000 F1 Wether lambs @ $60 $120,000
Sale of 1600 E Weaners @ $40 $64,000 2000 F1 Ewes @ $55 $110,000
Total Income $224,000 Total Income $327,500
Expenditure Expenditure
Shearing @ $4.20 $16,800 Shearing @ $4.20 $16,800
Crutching $4,000 Crutching $4,000
Animal Health $6,000 Animal Health $6,000
80 Rams @ $400 $32,000 26 Rams @ $1000 $26,000
Freight/Balranald $2.50 $6,400 Freight/Adelaide $3.70 $14,800
Freight Wool $1,680 Freight Wool $1,680
Total $66,800 Total $69,280
PROFIT $157,120 PROFIT $258,220

4. Pedigrees and Sheep Identification

We have experienced trouble with even reputable breeders who do not supply adequate certificates of breeding for sheep they supply. In future we will not buy from anyone unless they produce acceptable documentation of the sheep offered.

Hand in hand with this requirement is a means of identifying sheep. A growing problem is going to be people who supply high grade cross breed sheep as pure Damaras. We have already had calls from people who have "Damara" sheep but have no idea what breeding they are. Thus we now religiously earmark every cross-bred sheep - ewes in the left ear, rams in the right year. We use earmarking pliers that cut a triangular piece out of the ear of the sheep. F1's (50%) get one notch on top of the ear. F2's (75%) get a notch out of the tip of the ear. F3's (87.5%) get a notch out of the bottom of the ear. F4's (94%) get two notches out of the top of the ear. Thereafter they can be called "Full Blood" and get two ear notches one on top, one at the tip. No cross-bred sheep should ever be referred to as "Pure Bred", which is reserved for 100% Damara. We strongly recommend that all Damara breeders use this system to identify cross-bred sheep.

Our sheep now have a tag in each ear with a number and the Stud name "Sherana". Breeding as far back as we know is recorded on computer together with a detailed physical description of the animal. Because of the great variation in colour combinations of Damaras, we can usually identify a sheep from this alone even if they had lost both ear tags. Some day we may get to tattoos under the tail, but have not done that yet. Ear tags are best put on when lambs are small, and still sticking close to their mother - that makes matching lambs and mother numbers easier.

5. One Handed Sheep Management.

Mother of All Things (Judy) tripped over a black feed bowl while yarding sheep in the dark and has a badly dislocated elbow. So she is learning about life with one arm. She can ride the 4 wheeler, but can't open a honey jar. She can open ring-pull tins, but can't do up her bra. She can draft sheep, but can't catch them. But feeding three lambs with bottles at once is definitely beyond her. (They cannot be taught the socialist rationing solution - stand quietly in a queue). Soooo, one lamb has got to go.

We gave up on our East Friesian fence crawlers and sold them on the spur of the moment one day.

6. Who Wants "Little Jake"?

Jake is bottle baby (his mother had him in a crowded yard and they got separated before they got bonded, so Mother of All Things has raised him). He was born 26th March and is strong, healthy and lovable. He is a pure Damara ram, with very good breeding. We think he will grow to be a top class ram. He is red-brown with white markings. MOAT insists he must go to a good home so all offers should be accompanied by references from your spouse, child or pet dog.

7. Watchman "Waldo".

Thanks for all the condolence messages on our loss of "Major" the guard llama. We have a replacement recruit, Private Waldo. Waldo is quite different - he does not need shearing and is very tall and slim - he floats across the ground like a white swan ballerina. The sheep like and trust him, but Waldo has not really bonded to them yet.

8. Sheep for Sale, Sheep on Show.

We still have four top quality adult Damara rams left from our original lambing. These are our top rams, which we have used for breeding. But they are for sale. We also have just weaned a good flock of new rams, and the previous weaning are about ready to work now, and are selling well. All older F2 butcher's rams have been sold or eaten, but a new crop of weaners is available now. Great grass eaters, and lovely roasted.

We keep selling ewes in a weak moment, but are slowly building up numbers. The Dorper ewes and Little Jo were sold immediately the last newsletter hit the street. We have a few of their Damara/Dorper daughters, who learnt to be wanderers from their fence crawling mothers, so they will be sold to people with hinge joint fences. Give us a call.

Damara sheep will be on show at the Valley Field, Walloon on 25 May 2002, at the Sheep and Wool Pavilion at the Brisbane Exhibition, and maybe soon at The Australian Wool Shed at Ferny Hills in Brisbane.

9. Recipes.

The cook has discovered a great recipe for Damara chops. Take them frozen from the freezer, smash them apart on the concrete floor, put in a casserole dish in slow-moderate oven at 4pm, and then go yard the sheep for the night. By dinner time, they are cooked and beautiful. This seems to retain the moisture so that the whole chop is mouth watering. Better than grilling.

10. Feedback Please.

Please share with us and our readers any useful Damara stories - cross breeds, markets, handling, problems etc. Drop us a line.

Viv & Judy Forbes.

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