1. Barrow Fulls of Rain
I got instructions about this newsletter - "No more moaning
about the infernal drought - people want some good news".
So, the word "drought" will not be used until at least Chapter
2 in this report.
However the good news is pretty old news now. Back in
Dec-March 2004, we had more than our average annual rainfall,
culminating in 86 mm (or a couple of barrow-fulls) on March
For the whole decade of the Millennium Drought, we have been
hopefully spreading soil supplements and improved pasture seeds,
in the vain belief that it would rain. And, year after year, the
native grasses that manage to evade the cattle and sheep have
been dropping their seeds into the dry dusty soil. After the
rains of early 2004, all these seeds germinated - grasses we had
never seen before leapt up - spear grass, forest blue grass,
barbed wire grass, green panic, Rhodes grass, paspalum, wire
grass, siratro and lots of unidentified grasses and herbs grew
like Jack's beanstalk. Dogs, sheep, cattle and even the
Rouseabout disappeared in a sea of grass (over six feet high in
some favoured places).
Cattle became fat and sleek, sheep bloomed and rams became
Then on 7th March, the rains stopped. The biggest fall since
then was 16mm on 26th April. May, June, July and August dragged
on with no useful rain at all, cold dry winds and heavy frosts.
Grass wilted, went to seed, died, lignified and lost all
nutritional value - forests of indigestible cellulose - we should
have got a heap of carbon credits for all that dreadful carbon
dioxide locked up in our now useless grass.
2. Lambs Galore
All of our ewes, reacting to the unaccustomed nutrient bonanza
early in the year, became very fertile and got pregnant, many
with twins. Then the rains stopped, but the lambs had been
started on their journey into the world, and no recall notices
were possible. In the three months May/Jun/Jul we had a bonanza
of lambs (180 lambs tagged).
But we ran into some new nutrition problems. The grass looked
good for this time of year - paddocks full of dry grass, whereas
in other drought years the paddocks were nearly bare. But
suddenly we had Damara cross and Dorper cross ewes suddenly
looking staggery and going blind. Only a few ewes developed these
symptoms and all had or were about to have twin lambs. No pure
Damaras or Dorpers succumbed. The diagnosis was "pregnancy
toxaemia" - caused by the sudden drop from peak nutrition at
conception, to starvation nutrition near lambing time. The
paddocks of waving grass, with no rain for 5 months, and many
heavy frosts, had close to zero nutrition. We had to establish a
"poor house" where staggery ewes got supplementary feed to
restore their strength and sight. They all recovered, but we
learned one more lesson on nutrition.
Nutrition is the most important factor in ewe fertility. Out
west (and here in the Rosevale desert) the problem is usually lack of nutrition - sensible ewes will not
allow themselves to get pregnant when there is nothing to eat.
When there is a sudden abundance of grass, it will be followed
5-6 months later by "Lambs Galore".
But many of our coastal customers experience a nutrition
problem totally different problem from Rosevale's "Famine in the
Cellulose Forest". A typical phone conversation runs like this:
"Hello Viv, we love our damaras, but they are not having any
"Sorry to hear that. What condition are they in?"
"Oh they are in great condition - fat & glossy with lovely
"What do they eat?"
"Oh, we have green paspalum, kikuyu and clover on the flats,
we give then lucerne hay at night, and a jam tin of pellets as a
reward for coming home. They also love weetbix".
Here are sheep that evolved in the Namibian Desert being fed
like they were soppy European sheep in a feed lot. When ewes (or
females of most breeds) get too fat, it is hard (and sometimes
impossible) to get them pregnant. This is the commonest fertility
problem we hear about. Our most productive ewe (Ebony, the Ekka
girl) is a scrawny bony old girl with a thin tail, but she has a
lamb every 6.5 months - so far she has had 6 lambs in 39 months.
The really good looking ewes are those that miss a lambing or
two. On Sherana, they get a green ear tag (a bit like a pink
slip, only no appeals are allowed). They then go to the Gatton
sheep auction or to the butcher as culls.
3. Half a k of sheep.
As a result of the lamb bonanza, our sheep numbers have broken
the half kilo barrier - the tally book stands at 512. Lots of
"Leopard" Damara lambs and "Percy" Dorper lambs are being weaned,
as well as a few Meatmasters, so there is a good range of
colours, breeds, ages and genetics to choose from now. You can
look how we manage our breeding, we provide advice to customers
(and even some free-loaders), you usually get a good range of
sheep to choose from, we will give pedigree certificates, and we
replace any sheep that proves defective.
4. Damaras to Darwin (a shaggy sheep story by David
A few months ago, when I was going to Darwin, my Uncle Kerry
asked me to bring some Damaras with me. This posed a bit of a
challenge as I was going by Virgin Blue not Holden Rodeo. I rang
Dogtainers, Qantas and Virgin about moving my two "pet sheep" to
Darwin. After the usual silence or burst of laughter from the
operators, ("I'd like to book a flight for me and my two pet
sheep to Darwin") the typical answer was "ahh, ok I'll put you
through to..." The first two calls to Virgin Freight said they
couldn't do it, Dogtainers wanted $750 and Qantas said I would
have to fly with them for it to be a reasonable price.
I found the people at Dogtainers to very helpful and one of
the people I was transferred to gave me the mobile number of one
of the more senior people in Virgin Freight. The new Virgin
Freight contact called back after consulting their Flight
Operations Licence, or something along those lines, to inform me
they could take livestock. Dogs and cats are classed as domestic.
The reason I was initially told no was that the cargo holds are
different between Qantas and Virgin planes. Another reason is
that no livestock is allowed into Western Australia so the
freight people figured that was the case for the rest of the
My dad and I made a crate to collect the sheep from Viv's
place on the way to the airport and when I arrived at Virgin
Blue's freight dock the security guard greeted me with "Oh, I've
heard about these chops." He made a phone call to Petainers who
bought over two of the largest dog containers. With that more and
more freight handlers and security people came out to see the
sheep. I was extremely worried that they would break away during
the transfer between the crates and bring Brisbane Airport to a
halt. Luckily this didn't happen.
The two sheep were booked on the Virgin flight as "Show Dogs".
As such one cost $10 to transport and the other was my excess
I watched the sheep being towed out onto the tarmac in the
last trailer of the loading cart and the sheep seemed reasonably
calm. I was worried they weren't going to put them on but at the
last minute the ground staff gathered around, scratched their
heads, laughed and then lifted them on.
The sheep travelled well and the next day were let go with the
others on the farm. They took a few weeks to completely join the
others but are now well settled and recently both ewes gave birth
to rams. As it turns out the sheep travelled while pregnant.
If you are going to transport sheep this way, both airline
companies are capable of doing it. Virgin was very helpful and
friendly though. I was told that the live stock had to be
transported in airline approved crates. Petainers were the most
helpful and cheapest for this. Their largest dog container
comfortably fits a Damara. Just remember they won't allow you to
remove their crates from the airport. The sheep have to be met
either end by another crate. You could be asked to line the crate
around the back of the animal. I took plastic in case I was asked
to do this.
Judy and I have decided that, as we never have traditional
holidays, we will grab a day of touring here and there if it
suits our business. So, over the last few months we have had
trips to Roma, Tiaro, Murwillumbah and Toowoomba with Ute loads
of sheep. So, if you would like us to deliver sheep somewhere,
try our "Dial-a-Sheep" service. If it suits us, and we get orders
for a full load of sheep along the same highway, we may agree to
deliver them. You will have to pay for any dipping fees, and for
fuel, but we will provide time and labour. Fuel costs may be
about 25c per km from Sherana to delivery point, or whatever we
However, our very first sheep selling trip was cash flow
negative- we sold 3 sheep and purchased 48.
MOAT took the cheque book off the Rouseabout and next trip we
sold six and bought none.
6. Grass Fuel - greener than Ethanol?
(We now have a good line of F2 wethers who will convert grass
into lamb chops for Christmas).
7. The Cunnamulla Mob
Back in the halcyon days of early 2004, we were tempted to
restock our depleted ewe flocks with some damara and Damino ewes
from a droughted property at Cunnamulla.
These wild country girls came straight from a 25,000 acre
paddock with no distractions except a few dingos, into a
ten-square yard, with people, vehicles, tractors, bobcats, dogs,
turkeys, guineas, chooks and even dorpers passing by and through.
It has taken them quite a while to adjust. First they thought
that the best food grows on mulga trees, and supplementary
feeding was for softies like merinos and other sissies.
Unfortunately, mulga trees are pretty scarce at Rosevale and with
the nutrition drought and the stress and burden of lambs, a few
lost their lambs.
Sheep are also like people - despite our politically correct
good intentions and enforced multicultural integration, the
Cunnamulla mob prefers to discriminate in favour of their
friends. They stick together away from those suburban kids from
Sherana. And they can easily recognise one another - for months
after they arrived there was not sufficient rain to wash off
their coats of red dust (Sherana dust is black or grey).
8. Superman Arrives
We now have sufficient high grade damara cross ewes (F3 or
better) to push along our Meatmaster program, and
Mother-of-All-Things at last sees some value in our Dorper
Hippo's. Our first Meatmaster Ram (Damara:Dorper cross) is ready
to work, and even MOAT is impressed - she calls him "Superman" -
the brains of a Damara and the body of a Dorper.
Bye for now.
Best Wishes for Rain
From Mother-of-All-Things, Fixit, the Rouseabout, the White
Wolf, Leopard, Chilla, Superman,
Waldo & Poncho, and all the Ovine and Bovine People.
Viv & Judy Forbes.