“Over time, I have learned through a number of short courses things about nutrition, health of livestock and how an animal’s body functions. It was realised that there was little to no information about the nutritional value of the many native plants that exist in the pastoral areas. Our producer group did some work on that and got a lot of plants tested for their nutritional values when they were in their growing stage around early September and when they were completely dried off around February. It was always stated that our country lacked protein so whenever we had to supplementary feed, mostly in very dry and drought conditions, we would bring in hay and probably use a lupin based grain as it had less toxic risk. We were wrong. Our country for a portion of the year once the feed dries off has generally a good balanced amount of the key nutritional elements. Our bush can be high in protein and the sheep have a plentiful supply of fibre. What it lacks is energy. So going into a year in drier or drought conditions, our residual grass and bush is good for most parts, so I am trying to work out how to give extra starch or sugars when our sheep are too shy to take a lick. Supplementary feeding hay or grain is generally not an option due to the cost, logistics and longer term implications and some forms of sugars are very costly too, and why do I want to buy a fodder that has similar nutritional content to what I already have in the paddock? The other aspect, which is one of the implications and is not well understood, is that because our native plants are lower in total nutrients per volume, the sheep have to eat more plant matter, requiring a larger gut size to accommodate their requirements compared to the higher rainfall zones.
The energy side is the key to why I see a product like Thermoskin helpful. For our ewes being shorn 4 to 6 weeks off lambing, it is a critical time for that ewe, especially those with twins. Because they need to eat more as mentioned above, they often can’t fit enough feed in due to the growing foetus. They then struggle to maintain or lose body weight and /or the lamb develops less with a lower birth weight questioning lamb survival and other negative factors on skin development, wool quality and other negative life-long factors.
When shorn, sheep use a lot of energy to keep warm through metabolism and with poorer feed quality they put all their feed consumption into keeping warm and often it is a shortfall and they go backwards in condition, made worse when they have little fat reserves. So a pregnant ewe now has a double wammy. Use of Thermoskin for me helps reduce one of those limiting factors so the ewe can put her energy into herself and the lamb. There is also the possibility that the merino are always producing some wool and with better use of the available energy the wool growth can be normal or increased. In severe cold conditions I have seen effects on the skin and the wool is either broken or the skin is damaged enough to die and shed over time. Time will tell on this aspect.
With our weaners, especially the wethers, we need to turn them out before 13 months old to maximise the return as they are still lambs. We notice that off shears they often struggle and go backwards for a few weeks if there is not good fresh green feed. That means that they may take 6 weeks to get back to their preshorn status. Same reason, they are putting too much energy into keeping warm and not enough energy left to put into growth. Further, because they are cold, they are grazing for less time. So with Thermoskin this year, we believe they didn’t really go backwards in our tough cold conditions which made a percentage saleable and hope that in another season with a bit of fresh feed, they can improve their growth rates straight off shears.
The final aspect I consider is the ever increasing scrutiny of our industry by highly vocal, anti-everything animal groups who misconstrue reality of how nature functions to drive an agenda of imposing their way of life onto others. If I am reducing risk of death and any perceived form of suffering I am one step ahead. At least with Thermoskin I am not doing it to solely satisfy antagonists, I can see a true cost benefit ratio in my favour.”