Sheep Farming in Australia
Hello friends, today we are here with a new topic of how to start sheep farming in Australia. Sheep farming is also known as Sheep husbandry and it is the raising and breeding of domestic Sheep. It is a branch of animal husbandry. Sheep are raised for their meat (lamb and mutton), milk (Sheep’s milk), and also fiber (wool). Also, they yield Sheepskin and parchment. The world’s 3rd largest exporter of live Sheep is Australia and its main markets are Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Oman.
A Step-by-Step Guide to Sheep Farming in Australia
Australia is the world’s largest Sheep exporter and exports about 92% of its mutton production and 57% of its lamb production. Though, the US, China, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar are the main markets for Australian lamb for about 22%, 16%, 9%, and 7% of lamb carcass exports respectively.
Australia is one of the World’s largest exporters of Lamb which means it is a Sheep that is typically less than 1 year old. Animal health and welfare is the main priority for Australian farmers. There are hundreds of Sheep breeds in Australia, before you start picking outbreeds, it’s essential to think about why you’ll be keeping Sheep. Different Sheep breeds are suited to different purposes; several breeds can be used for both wool and meat. Though all Sheep can produce milk, non-dairy Sheep produce little milk compared to specialized breeds.
Sheep farming is mainly done to breed lambs for meat and raise Sheep for wool and milk. In the Sheep stations, trained to help hands called ‘Jackaroos’ trend to the Sheep. Some of them have large dogs to assist them to keep a track of the Sheep. Also, the Sheep are fed special grasses such as alfalfa to ensure that they are healthy. Sheep are vaccinated when they are newborn lambs. Australia continues to achieve long-term profitability, which historically is a huge achievement, particularly when you compare it with other countries. Every challenge presents an opportunity and also it is up to the Government and relevant bodies to streamline the system so that the country continues its journey towards being the largest exporter of meat with high quality throughout the world.
Sheep are produced in a wide range of climate conditions from the arid and semi-arid parts of the inland region. And, the arid and semi-arid regions are the high rainfall areas of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and Tasmania in Australia. Also, the southwest corner of Western Australia is an important lamb-producing region.
The size of the Australian Sheep flock fluctuates in response to changing seasonal conditions, movements in wool prices, and the relative profitability of other enterprises. Australian farms produce the heaviest lambs, mainly when compared to other grazing systems. Although, Australian lambs are slaughtered at weaning achieve the highest growth rates globally.
Wool production is a very important commodity in the Australian Sheep Industry. In Australia, a Sheep station is a large property (station, the equivalent of a ranch), and the main activity is the Sheep raising their wool and meat. Sheep stations are in the southeast or southwest of Australia.
In Australia, Sheep are raised for their wool and their meat (mutton and lamb). They are farmed in a variety of climate conditions from temperate regions, eastern highlands, mountain slopes, and even through to the semi-arid grassland regions. Merinos are the most common Sheep breed in Australia and are renowned for their quality wool, but they are also raised for meat production. Australia is recognized as being free of major livestock diseases. Australian meat has strict safety guidelines resulting in quality products that are exported all over the world. Of the total exported, Australia sends about one-third of its lamb to the United States and other big markets including the Middle East, the European Union, and China.
Types of Australian Sheep
Not all Sheep breeds are used to produce high-quality wool in Australia. Sheep breeds are used for meat, and milk, and some breeds are used to produce both wool and meat dual-purpose breeds. Some common dual-purpose Sheep breeds used in Australia are the Coopworth, Texel, Border Leicester, Corriedale, and South African Meat Merino (SAMM). A breed that is used mainly for milk production is the East Friesland. This Sheep breed is known for its fertility and the ability to produce lots of twins and triplets and plenty of milk to raise multiple lambs. Merino Sheep and their crossbreeds are the most prominent breed in the Australian Sheep Industry.
Sheep have been bred for meat and wool production. Australia’s hybrid Sheep are generally produced by crossing merino with the English breeds. Though, some of these Sheep breeds are now distinct breeds like the Corriedale and Polwarth. Others are crossbreds or comebacks.
Generally, Sheep breeds are grouped under the following headings;
2. British Long Wool Breeds
3. British Short Wool Breeds
4. Australasian breeds
5. Recently introduced wool breeds.
Some of the long wool Sheep breeds are the Border Leicester, Lincoln, Cheviot, and Romney Marsh.
In Australia, short wool Sheep breeds are the Southdown, Ryeland, Dorset Down, Dorset Horn, Suffolk, Shropshire Down, and other down breeds.
In Australia, the predominant Sheep breed is the Merino. It was first introduced into Australia and has over the years developed for wool production. Usually, Australian Merino wool is the world’s finest and softest wool in the world. Its natural benefits are so great that no other fiber natural or man-made can match it. Merino Sheep wool is a natural fiber grown year-round by Merino Sheep on farms across Australia.
Merino Sheep wool is bright white. The wool grows in small bundles or staples. Wool staples are commonly 65 to 100 mm (2.5 – 4inches) long. Generally, Merino wool has a fiber diameter of fewer than 24 microns (µm).
The main Merino types include;
- Strong Merino (broad) wool 23 – 24.5µm,
- Medium Merino wool 19.6 – 22.9µm,
- Fine Merino 18.6 – 19.5µm,
- Superfine Merino 15 – 18.5µm
- Ultrafine merino 11.5 – 15µm.
Ultrafine Merino wool is suitable for blending with other fibers like silk and cashmere.
2. British Long Wool Breeds
The Lincoln breed has a large frame and is a hornless Sheep. Its wool is very coarse and about 34 – 41 microns with medullated or hollow fibers.
b) English Leicester
The English Leicester has lustrous wool with a staple length of about 200 to 250 mm. The wool has a fiber diameter from 32 to 35 microns.
c) Border Leicester
The Border Leicester Sheep is a large framed hornless Sheep and it has lustrous wool of about 175 to 225 mm staple length. It is a popular breed for producing first cross (Merino ewe x Border Leicester ram) ewes. The first cross ewes are prolific at producing twins and are good miller and their lambs mature quickly for the meat market.
The Cheviot breed is a large-framed Sheep breed. It produces soft handling, chalky colored wool with a staple length of about 100 to 150 mm. The Cheviot produces prime lamb sires.
e) Romney Marsh
The Romney Marsh breed is a large-framed, hornless Sheep. It has a thick top knot a white face and kemp fibers on its face and legs. It produces demi- lustrous wool of about 75 to 200 mm staple length.
3. British Short Wool (Downs) Breeds
The British Short Wool is called Downs’s breed. They grow wool which is comparatively harsh to handle, chalky in appearance, has a staple length in the 50 to 130 mm range, and a fiber diameter between 23 to 27 microns. The downs breeds that have fine-grain meat are used as prime lamb sires.
The Southdown Sheep has a small chunky frame and a wide back. Its head is well covered with wool. Its wool is harsh to handle and has a short staple length of 50 to 75 mm.
b) Dorset Horn and Poll Dorset
The Dorset Horn breed has a medium-sized blocky frame, a wide long back, and wool that grow down the face to the top of the muzzle. The wool staple length grows to about 75 to 125 mm. Poll Dorsets and Dorset Horns are renowned as prime lamb sires and are mated to crossbred (Merino cross), British Long Wool, or Merino ewes.
The Suffolk breed has a medium blocky frame, blackhead, black legs, and black hooves. It is hornless. The White Suffolk Sheep breed is well developed for Australian conditions. Its head is white and free of wool and hornless and its legs are white.
It is a well-developed and proportioned heavily muscled and lean Sheep. The wool is dense, 100mm in staple length, and in the 30 to 36-micron range. The Texel is predominantly a meat breed.
e) Australasian Breeds
The major Australasian Sheep breeds are the Perendale, Poll Dorset, Coopworth, Corriedale, Polworth, and South Suffolk. The Corriedale and Polworth developed as dual-purpose Sheep and have good wool producing and meat characteristics in addition to good reproductive performance.
Sheep Breeds in Australia
In Australia, Sheep growers have bred sheep for meat and wool production. Many Sheep breeds suit particular locations of Australia for various reasons. Sheep are bred to have progeny attributes and the required constitution and soundness to survive in specific climatic conditions.
Breeds are grouped under the following headings;
Merino and Merino’s derivatives include superfine, fine, medium, and strong Merinos which are used to produce high-quality wool. Merino derivatives include the Dohne and South African Meat Merino (SAMM) which are considered to be dual-purpose Sheep breeds.
- British Long Wool breeds like Lincoln, Border Leicester, and Romney Marsh are better known for their meat characteristics.
- British Short Wool or Downs breeds like Southdown, Dorset, and Suffolk for prime lamb production.
- Some important Australasian breeds like Coopworth, Polwarth, Perendale, Poll Dorset, Gromark, and South Suffolk. The Corriedale and Polwarth have been developed as dual-purpose Sheep. They have good wool-producing and mutton characteristics.
- Carpet wool breeds like Tukidale and Drysdale are bred specifically for the production of carpet wool.
- Shedding breeds like Awassi, Dorper, and Damara are used for meat production and cross-breeding purposes.
Crossbreeding involves mating various pure breeds to produce a crossbred type to suit particular requirements, for example;
- Environment (climatic conditions)
- Availability of feed (natural, improved, or supplementary)
- Wool (reasonable value)
- Hybrid vigor – a growth rate
- Mothering ability (e.g. first cross vs pure Merino)
The following breed characteristics are important in crossbreeding;
- Merino – the quality of wool.
- British Long Wool (BLW) – large frame, good mothering ability, twinning factor, milk value.
- British Short Wool (BSW) – compact frame, quick maturing, quality meat.
- Australasian breed – the quality of wool, good mothering ability, and good milking.
- Carpet Wool breeds – specialist wool and quality meat.
- Shedding Wool breeds – good mothering ability, quality meat, the ability of some to thrive in semiarid environments
Advantages of Sheep Farming in Australia
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The advantages of Sheep farming are;
- Sheep are gentle animals and one of the first animals to be domesticated.
- Sheep can identify up to 50 other Sheep faces. Sheep can also recognize human faces.
- A Sheep is much less likely to show obvious signs of pain compared to a domestic dog.
- Sheep can experience emotions like fear, anger, rage, despair, boredom, disgust, and happiness.
- Large flocks that are flock size in Australia are 1,390 ewes which lamb outdoors. Some large feedlots and the group visited a feedlot that finished 70,000 lambs annually.
- Sheep farming requires less labor and does not need expensive buildings to house them. Also, the foundation stock is cheap and the flock can be multiplied rapidly.
- Sheep are mainly referred to as an economical converter of grass into meat and wool.
- Sheep will eat varied kinds of plants compared to other kinds of livestock and this makes them excellent weed destroyers.
Advantages of the Australian Sheep Meat Industry
Australia produces the heaviest lambs globally – Labor costs in Australia are over 10 times higher than in China, Africa, or South America. But this is offset by the fact that Australian Sheep farms produce about 5-10 times more meat per hour of labor than the rest of the world.
Australian farms maintain a low total cost of Sheep meat production – Generally, Australian Sheep farms maintain higher levels of profitability due to additional income coming in from wool and cropping. Then, they maintain above-average growth rates for animals being sold or slaughtered at weaning.
Climate Conditions for Sheep Farming in Australia
Australia is the largest wool-producing country in the world and produces about 32% of the total world’s wool. For wool production the dry climate of Australia is ideal. Australia is the world’s leading Sheep wool producer and exporter. Australia is the second-largest producer of lamb and mutton and is a major exporter.
The Sheep raised for lamb are kept in the southeast of the country. Then, they are fed on improved pastures or kept on arable farms where they graze the wheat stubble or graze on ley pastures. In Australia, the states of New South Wales and Victoria have the largest numbers of Sheep and produce a quantity of meat.
They have the advantage not only of better natural conditions but also of the nearby markets in the large towns and cities like Sydney and Melbourne. Though, Merino is the major Sheep breed kept in Australia, increasing numbers of such breeds as Leicester, Lincoln, and Romney Marsh are kept for meat, with wool as a by-product. Australians eat much lamb and mutton but export large quantities in chilled or frozen form.
Sheep Production Environments in Australia
In Australia, there are many environmental effects in Sheep production. The main factor influencing these environmental differences relates to rainfall pattern, in terms of the average annual rainfall when this rainfall is predominantly received (i.e. within-year seasonality). In Australia, rainfall patterns impact Sheep productivity via aspects of Sheep health and disease. The three broad Sheep production zones are the high rainfall zone; the wheat-Sheep zone; and the pastoral zone. Then, the main factor differentiating between the zones is the average annual rainfall that is ranging from 500-1000 mm for the high rainfall zone, 400-700 mm for the wheat-Sheep zone, and 150-400 mm for the pastoral zone. Then, these differences in annual rainfall generate differences between zones in patterns of pasture growth.
Within any one of the three production zones, there are also differences between regions based on the predominant season in which rainfall is received (summer, winter, uniform, or non-seasonal) and the level of between-year variation in annual rainfall. This exerts a strong influence on the dynamics of the pasture base, particularly in terms of;
- Start and also the duration of the pasture growing season
- Species composition (e.g. grasses, legumes, broad-leaved weeds, shrubs)
- Pasture stability (e.g. annuals or perennials)
- Pasture quality and palatability
- Scope for pasture improvement and sustainability.
The climatic profile of a specific production environment has implications for Sheep health and disease, given that moisture and temperature are the main factors influencing the prevalence of many Sheep diseases.
Usually, Lambs as small as 12 to 14 kgs dressed weight means slaughtered, gutted, and prepared for the market are supplied as suckling lamb. The ‘lamb’ refers to a Sheep less than a year old, slaughtered between the ages of about 4 and 12 months, and ‘mutton is meat from a sheep that is older than a year, generally 3 years of age. Mutton has an intense red color and has a stronger flavor than lamb.
Feeding Requirements for Sheep Farming in Australia
Good pasture produces healthy Sheep, which is a blend of several grass species. If you don’t have to improve the pasture or intend to keep Sheep as backyard lawn mowers, then you must provide extra nutrition in the form of supplementary feed, especially during the summer season and also late winter when the grass can be quite low. Also, supplementary feeding includes Sheep pellets and good-quality hay. Never feed Sheep bread it isn’t good for them. Give them access to fresh clean water. Never overstock paddocks that are not more than your conditions or land can handle.
Sheep Management Practices in Australia
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Both wool and meat production systems rely on the breeding ewe and are managed to set up the profitability of both the ewe and weaner flock. Decisions on the time of lambing, ewe management, weaner management, and preparation for joining should be optimized if profit is to be maximized. Production cost and labor efficiency convert those gains into profit per hectare.
Sheep wool is used to make fabric, and Sheep farmers sell wool raw to garment makers, spinners, and crafters. Some farmers also spin it or have it spun into yarn to sell to local artisans. Also, wool can be used in the garden, to edge beds and keep snails out, or as turned into mulch pads. On an industrial level, it is used for insulation and even brick reinforcement. Also, raw wool is greasy to the touch, due to its high lanolin content. Then, this fat is used in many beauty products and hair and skin conditioners. Lanolin is recovered during the scouring procedure and can be turned into a variety of cosmetic products for sale. If you’re interested in harvesting wool from Sheep, you must either choose a shedding breed, which doesn’t require shearing, or be willing to shear your flock.
The main milking Sheep breed is the East Friesian and it has different characteristics in Australia. If you want to produce milk, you will need to breed ewes at some point. Milk Sheep, or milkers, can be purchased ready to milk, or you can acquire your flock, and then breed ewes when ready.
Meat is usually divided into mutton or lamb. Some farmers also refer to yearling mutton, the product of Sheep between 1 and 2 years of age.
Key Barriers and Problems of Sheep Farming in Australia
High capital costs – Farmers can explore using technologies or sharing equipment and facilities to help reduce the strain that capital can cause on a growing Sheep farm.
Labor – The production of Sheep requires seasonal labor needs. For example, lambing is done in May, and then the Sheep are shorn in September in Western Australia. Some of the husbandry programs include crutching, drenching, jetting, vaccinating, and lamb marking. Therefore, there is a huge issue in hiring the right skilled, seasonal labor. Farmers can explore the possibility of using technology to reduce the requirement of labor and increase efficiency.
Production – There has been a decline in the number of Sheep over the past years. If this continues at the present rate, it will result in the Sheep population decreasing and also reaching a low level that will be difficult to recover from.
This can be shifted by promoting the Sheep industry and encouraging farmers to realize the benefits of building a sustainable flock. However there are a few limitations, Sheep farming does not get the attention that cattle farming does.
Problems – Overgrazing is the major problem associated with Sheep farming. Overgrazing mainly causes desertification and loss of biodiversity through the loss of native plants that do not grow back at a rate sustainable to a pastoral industry. Grasslands force several indigenous species to relocate and can cause their extinction or endangerment.
The Changing Australian Sheep Industry
The Australian Sheep industry has undergone many changes and continues to change to meet consumer demands for high-quality fiber and meat products. It has become more cohesive rather than having the wool and meat industries considered separate entities. To increase income from meat compared to wool and a move to the use of more cross-breeding and meat breeding rather than pure Merino breeding.
Also, changes have occurred due to increasing input costs without associated increases in price received changes in consumer attitudes to animal welfare, extended periods of drought, and the possibility of climate change and its implications for Sheep producers.
Commonly Asked Questions about Sheep Farming in Australia
Why is central and western Australia mostly suitable for Sheep farming?
Central and Western Australia has little rainfall and these are well suited to the requirements of Sheep.
Why are Sheep farmed in Australia?
It is a branch of animal husbandry and Sheep are raised mainly for their milk, meat, and fiber (wool).
What is the common breed of Sheep in Australia?
The common breed of Sheep in Australia is the Merino.
How are the farmers in Australia trying to overcome the difficulties in the wool industry?
In Australia, farmers are trying to solve these problems of soil erosion, salting, fencing off damaged areas and caring for them, using fewer chemicals, replanting more bushes and trees, and irrigating pastures efficiently so that the underground water does not build up as the Sheep need drier conditions for growth.
If you live in the following states, territories, and cities of Australia and plan to start commercial Sheep Farming, this article may help you to understand the process of starting a Sheep Farm in Australia.
|Queensland||New South Wales||Tasmania||Victoria|
|Western Australia||South Australia||Northern Territory||Australian Capital Territory|
|Wagga Wagga||Shepparton||Whyalla||Port Augusta|
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