Updated: Mar 14
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As you'll see in the photos below, we are still green. We are still not having to handfeed other than a bale or two of hay for roughage to help minimise photosensitisation and PEM, which I will also discuss in this blog. We received 18mm of rain over 5 days in January 2021 and 33mm in February over 6 days. Importantly, although we have had a few hot days (>35C), we have had a relatively cool summer so far. February is our hottest month, usually, and late March is when our average "break" to the season is (when the winter rains begin for all those overseas reading this). However, we already have clover and some ryegrass germinated, and with a cool week forecast this week with a little bit of rain on each day, the clover and ryegrass has a fighting chance. The probability is all this clover and ryegrass will die before the winter rains come, but, time will tell.
The kikuyu will quickly suck the soil dry if we have a few hot, dry weeks and this will kill the clover and ryegrass.
If it does rain enough to keep all the clover and ryegrass alive until winter comes, then we have a serious business problem. We badly need more sheep. We are doing what we can in regards to this as we can't be where we want to be until we are fully stocked. If someone would like to be a part of Caluka Farms, please come and chat and have a look. We have plans to expand as quickly as we can.
As you read in previous blogs, with all the liming to increase the pH in this very acidic soil, we have made molybdenum available too much and the copper not available enough in the sheep, despite adding very high rates of copper to the pastures. Blood tests confirmed the problem and last week we took more blood samples from older ewes and from wether lambs to see how we are going now. We've been leaving copper in the troughs to try and increase the copper levels. When we start spreading fertiliser this month, lots of copper with zero molybdenum will be added to also help. The intention is to remove the copper from the water as soon as the sheep are showing their copper levels have improved enough.
The copper levels in the pastures were not too low for pasture growth, but they are not high enough to counteract the very high levels of Mo in the soil. So if you have the opposite problem where copper is too high in the sheep (a potentially fatal problem), the easiest way is to lime the paddocks and spread sodium molybdate (50-200g/ha depending on how dangerous the situation is). Lime increases the availability of molybdenum, slightly decreases the availability of copper to the plants, and the extra molybdenum being eaten by the sheep will immediately reduce the copper levels in the blood.
Now to PEM, which is polioencephalomalacia (https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/livestock-biosecurity/thiamine-deficiency-induced-polioencephomalacia-pem-sheep-and-cattle). We lose a few sheep to PEM every month, and they are always the nice meaty, fat sheep. If anyone definitely knows the cause of PEM, please email me. Veterinarians tell me it is a very widespread problem, but they don't know what causes it. They say farmers usually find a dead sheep and don't know why it died. I don't like not knowing.
As you will read in the link above and in others, sometimes it is sulphur levels are too high (mainly in cattle), but rarely in Western Australia. Currently our summer kikuyu is on the low side for sulphur (I'm waiting for the rains to begin, and when we can get more sheep before spreading more S). Sometimes it is a rapid change in pasture type and quality, but that does not support what we are seeing in our paddocks. We see it in all ages of sheep throughout the year.
Granted, the bouts of photosensitisation problems we've had are when pastures become fresh with new ryegrass and clover in early winter, and from July to September when the pastures become very lush, however, roughage immediately stops this problem. Hence why for now, we make sure there are 1-2 bales of hay or straw in with every mob. And they also have Ca/Mg lick blocks. When we get a boom spray, I will do some trials to see what I can improve in regards to this. Watch these blogs later this year.
The good news about PEM is that as soon as you see a sheep holding its head higher than usual and not eating while others are, injecting Vitamin B1 into the muscle gives a very quick response (<1 hour). However, if we don't see it until later stages, though the animal noticeably improves from Vit B1 injections, there is usually permanent brain damage from which it will not recover. Sadly.
Please see the comments under each photo below for more details. In the next blog, I will let you know what the most recent blood test results reveal.