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Joining, Maremmas and all that grass

To begin with, in the spirit of Hanrahan, a quick gripe about the weather. We’ve all been enjoying the rain so much we’ve forgotten to complain about the hidden cost of a big autumn. To begin with, the goldilocks sleep window, as I like to call it, has been drastically shortened. This is the period when neither a mosquito net, nor a hot water bottle, are required for a comfortable repose, i.e. conditions are “just right”. All the late summer and autumn rain has kept the bloody mozzies breeding right up til the cold nights kicked in recently.

Rain also means mud, and mud means dirty bicycles, so the chore of hosing down our bikes after a quick lap around the trails has raised its ugly head. Heaven forbid we might have to fit mudguards!

Household floors require more frequent mopping, boots get uncomfortably squelchy after even the most trivial excursion, and the washing can take up to two days to dry...

Lastly, spare a thought for the cocky who, due to the higher pressure provided by brimming dams, cops a faceful of chilly water when setting up portable troughs at the hydrants.

We’ll all be rooned.

And now, as promised, a quick update on the sheep and the ongoing maremma experiment.

The rams are out with the ewes, and have been for a week or so. The ewes were condition scored beforehand, and as you might expect given the rain we’ve had they were in very good order. Because we have had to destock so much, our six Glenwood rams will easily cover all our ewes, and our trial with SRS type sheep has gotten a bit more serious. The progeny from the two Glenwood rams we joined last year are very good doers, and the lambing percentage from them was significantly higher, so all signs so far are positive. We’ll get more of an idea of what their wool is like in a few months when they are shorn.

We try to run our sheep in one main mob for as much of the year as possible, but to avoid some of the larger ewe lambs getting in lamb, we’ve split the sheep up into the “weaner” mob, and the ewes and rams. Both mobs have gotten used to the rich clover we’ve got in most of our “improved” pastures now, and should be packing on valuable fat reserves for the winter that is creeping closer and closer.

The maremmas, along with a small mob of young ewes, have for the last couple of months been ranging over the paddock formerly known as Welch, which is now a series of smaller paddocks divided by windbreaks made up of eucalypts and acacias planted about 25 years ago. Welch used to be one of our most productive areas, but heavy competition from kangaroos (it is surrounded on three sides by woodland and forest) has led to a gradual decline in palatable grasses, and more and more annuals and bare ground. Allowing the maremmas and their little group of sheep to patrol the area should, in theory, discourage the kangaroos from venturing into the paddocks, and the early signs are positive. Of course, once the frosts really hit, and the native warm season grasses become less appealing, we will know more about how discouraging a couple of maremmas really are to a hungry kangaroo. Our maremma researcher continues to diligently track the dog’s movements, and monitor the kangaroo’s behaviour, via wildlife cameras, gps collars, kangaroo pellet counts, and walked-line transects, so we’re not going to die wondering!

Introducing a ram to maremmas can be troublesome - they obviously smell and behave quite differently to the rest of the sheep, and the dogs sometimes see them as a threat. Luckily we had a poddy ram who was raised with the dogs, and we were able to put him with the little mob of ewes running with the maremmas - so far so good. An interesting development is the predilection of one of the maremma group - another poddy named Elsa - for joining the maremmas for their evening run. She seems to enjoy it, although it’s always hard to tell with sheep and perhaps she just thinks she’s being abandoned.

Harry Watson - 21/4/20


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