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Doing the 6-month shear

Posted by Bestprac on Aug 23 2011

By Sally Ware
Livestock Officer Sheep & Wool
Department of Primary Industries – Hay
Phone: 02 6993 1608


Shearing all the sheep on a property every 6 months is not for the faint hearted! Many landholders have moved to shearing every 10 months, but 6 months is a whole new exercise in sheep management and yearly planning. However, small numbers of landholders in the west of the State have started down this track, and one such person is Magnus Aitken, Manager of the Paraway Pastoral property ‘Steam Plains’. Magnus has been managing ‘Steam Plains’, which is located 35 km north of Conargo, in the Riverina, for over 6 years. The property covers 46 500 ha and consists of a mixture of open-plains cotton bush and boree country to red sand hills and pine trees. The average rainfall is 360 mm. Nearly 20,000 ewes of Mungadal and Pooginook bloodlines are usually joined each year. There are three other full-time employees working on the property, which, in addition to sheep, has a large-scale cropping program.

Magnus decided to try shearing every 6 months in 2009. The flock had been reduced to 5000 breeding ewes because of the drought, and this seemed like the ideal time to give the idea a try. The ewes were shorn in April 2009 with 12 months’ wool and then trucked to Queensland on agistment. These ewes were shorn again in October on their return. This first 6-month shearing went well, with the staple averaging a combing length of 65 mm and low vegetable fault; there was also an increase in the tensile strength of the wool staple. Marketing of the wool did not present any problems, as the benefits from increases in tensile strength, yield and total cut per head outweighed any perceived decrease in price and marketability due to staple length.

Two years down the track, 6-month shearing continues to work for the ‘Steam Plains’ sheep program. The ewes are first shorn in April, before lambing in May. The lambs dropped are weaned at the next shearing in October, with a lamb shearing taking place in December and their next shearing in October (they miss the first 6-month shear in April). The lambs are still crutched in their first year in May. The lambing percentage at ‘Steam Plains’ averages around 100%, and the older ewes are culled at 6 years of age. Joining takes place in mid December. Magnus believes that the off-shears joining is one of the reasons for an increase in lambing percentage, because the ewes have increased their feed intake following shearing and hence are being joined when their body weights are increasing.

Some of the other benefits of shearing every 6 months include the elimination of crutching of the mature-age sheep. There is also an increase in wool weight as well as body weight, because the sheep increase their feed intake as a result of the usual post-shearing increase in appetite and are not carrying extra weight (i.e. heavy fleeces) around the paddock. The fleece wool continues to achieve an average length of 65 mm (range 55 to 75 mm) and the amount of vegetable fault in the fleece wool is less than 1%, in contrast with a previous average of around 2% on this type of country. The average value of the fleece wool is comparable to, or better than, that of the wool received with 12 months’ growth, as the yields are higher because there is less dust and a lower fault. Other benefits include two cracks at the wool market within 12 months—with the current rising market this has been a huge bonus. In addition, fly waves like those experienced over last spring and summer are easier to handle, and lice control is less of an issue, as chemicals can be applied, if required, at each shearing. Breaks in the wool staple as a result of setbacks in the flock are also no longer a problem, particularly as lambing now takes place off shears.

As to be expected, the ‘Steam Plains’ shearing contractor is also very much in favour of the 6-month shearing, as his team now gets to shear twice a year on the property.

Handling the nutrition of the flock is also something Magnus has put a lot of thought into as part of his management program. The sheep are rotationally grazed in mobs of 5000 or 6000 head around the 45 paddocks on the property. Each paddock is set up with at least two permanent waters and the stock are moved according to a visual assessment of the paddocks: stock are moved regularly when it is dry and less frequently in wetter seasons. Each paddock receives a 3 to 6 month rest period on average, with mobs split up and set stocked for lambing. Cattle are also part of the rotation, and often they are grazed in a paddock before the sheep; this has proved beneficial, particularly if there are tall, rank grasses in the paddock. As there are laneways linked to the paddocks, it is not a difficult job to bring the sheep in for shearing, and the rotations are worked out so that each mob is close to the shed before shearing. Using this planned grazing regime, Magnus hopes to never hand-feed stock again. His emphasis is on maintenance of high levels of ground cover with the ability to budget paddock feed and de-stocking in times of severe drought rather than hand feeding.

For further details about the ‘Steam Plains’ sheep management program, contact Magnus Aitken on mobile 0429 367413.

Caption: Above: Magnus Aitken with 3-year-old breeding ewes that were sold at an on-farm sale at Steam Plains, during the drought, in 2008. Photo by Liz Meecham

Last changed: Jan 23 2012



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