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Information Exchange

The newsletter of the BESTWOOL / BESTLAMB network
No. 59 - December 2012


Program develops leadership skills

Bea Kirk

Bea Kirk: “The course exposed me to a cross section of very inspiring people.”

AN enthusiastic review from her husband was the driving force for veterinarian Dr Bea Kirk to apply for the BESTWOOL/ BESTLAMB scholarship for the Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program.

“My husband Andrew did the program in 2011 and came back very enthusiastic about the issues the course covered and the people he met,” she said.

“It seemed l ike a g reat opportunity to learn new skills and meet inspirational people from different backgrounds.”

Dr Kirk is based at the University of Melbourne’s Mackinnon Project where she is training as a sheep and beef consultant and undertaking a Masters Degree about worms in prime lambs.

The week-long, live-in course involved people from rural industries and agribusiness around Australia.

It featured a range of guest speakers who covered topics such as leadership, negotiation, team processes, submission writing, public speaking , managing conflict, communication and dealing with the media.

“It was a very well-structured course with great facilitators and guest speakers,” Dr Kirk said.

“Presenters such as Neil Inall and Nathan Scott were outstanding and had extensive industry experience, covering everything from dealing with the media and public speaking to business negotiation skills.

“The course exposed me to a cross section of very inspiring people representing a range of industries from rural finance to Tasmanian poppy production.

“We learnt a lot of skills and techniques during the course such as public speaking, organisational skills and managing the media - they are the type of skills that are applicable to a range of situations.”

Dr Kirk said she particularly enjoyed the discussions on the use of social media.

The growing influence of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, was a recurring theme; a number of speakers talked about its potential to advance or damage agricultural industries.

“We had one dinner speaker Jo Brosnan, general manager of Darwin communications company Michels Warren Munday, who talked about the use of social media when the live cattle trade to Indonesia became a media issue after footage of Indonesian abattoirs featured on Four Corners,” she said

“Agriculture is potentially very vulnerable to social media, which is used by active lobby groups and others who may not have a great understanding of rural issues or very little to do with people involved in agriculture.

“As a vet I have a strong interest and background in animal welfare and can see the potential for agriculture to be more proactive in using social media in addressing animal welfare and other issues that are important to agriculture.

“I also plan to use the communication and public speaking skills I learnt during the course when it comes to presenting the data from my research and when speaking to different audiences.”

Getting the picture on mastitis in ewes

A major research project into the causes of mastitis is set to give sheep producers a heads up in controlling a disease which can cut reproductive performance and claim up to five per cent of lambing ewes in some flocks.

Dr Stuart Barber from the University of Melbourne is heading a research team funded by Meat and Livestock Australia and the University of Melbourne into identifying the extent of mastitis of sheep flocks.

“Mastitis can vary with different breeds of ewes, between different property and locations and seasonal conditions,” Dr Barber said.

“We tend to see more mastitis in terminal sire breed ewes such as Dorsets and Suffolks, than in first cross ewes and even less in Merino ewes but there is enormous variation between properties and regions.

“In extreme cases mastitis can be devastating. In one Merino flock 5 per of ewes died from mastitis and more than 50 per cent were infected with udder damage in surviving ewes resulting in culling.

“CSIRO undertook research into sheep mastitis in the 1980s which suggested that mastitis appeared to be a significant problem in some flocks in Northern NSW but there was very little information on the importance of the disease and its impact on Australian flocks.”


“We do know that mastitis becomes an issue when teats are unhealthy, or produce too much or too little milk for the lambs’ requirement,” Dr Barber said.

“Really wet conditions, as well as dry dusty conditions, rough scratchy pastures which can damage teats, and the incidence of scabby mouth can all contribute to the incidence of mastitis.

“Mastitis tends to develop in early lactation when milk production is high and teats are dripping and not sealing properly. High milk production in early lactation can be exacerbated by grain feeding ewes.”

Mastitis can also be an issue at the end of lactation when rough suckling by large lambs can cause teat damage.

There’s also the chance that cross mothering of lambs can spread the bacteria which transfers black mastitis from ewe to ewe.

“Mastitis tends to develop in early lactation when milk production is high and teats are dripping and not sealing properly.”


Dr Barber said the incidence of mastitis in Merino flocks was often difficult to gauge as many producers were reluctant to disturb lambing ewes, and ewe deaths could be due to a range of causes such as lambing problems or pregnancy toxaemia as well as mastitis.

Stud flocks that had more supervision during lambing tended to have a greater appreciation of the problem when it is was present.

“We tend to see clinical mastitis in about one per cent of Merino ewes and at higher levels in cross bred ewes, but it is likely that rates of subclinical mastitis in these flocks is five to 10 times higher and may significantly affect lamb growth rate.

“One of the challenges is identifying animals with mastitis and then using the appropriate ant ibiot ics to cont rol the infection.”

The two-year project started this year and involves collecting samples from ewes affected with clinical mastitis to identify the possible causes and the bacteria involved.

Milk samples from ewes affected by clinical mastitis have been collected by local vets and producers and sent to the research team who are identifying the bacteria causing mastitis.

Milk samples are also being collected at weaning from eight flocks in Victoria and South Australia to assess cell count levels and the incidence of subclinical mastitis.

Weaning percentages and lamb weaning weights are also being measured.


To date, more than 1,200 milk samples have been collected and further flocks from NSW and WA will be involved in this part of the research next year.

At the end of two years, the researchers hope to identify significant causes of mastitis so producers can manage their flocks to reduce the risk of the disease.

Farmers who have ewes affected by mastitis and are interested in submitting milk samples can contact Dr Barber on or call (03) 83449897.

Mastitis has the potential to be a major cost in Merino and crossbred flocks.

Mastitis has the potential to be a major cost in Merino and crossbred flocks.

Mastitis has the potential to be a major cost in Merino and crossbred flocks.

Mastitis has the potential to be a major cost in Merino and crossbred flocks.










Check out the climate with a click

A century of rainfall and temperature data, along with seasonal forecasts, are now just a mouse click away with a new web-based tool from the Department of Primary Industries.

The website lets farmers see historical temperature and rainfall data, along with seasonal forecasts across 27 Victorian sites.

The tool was recently unveiled at the Elmore field days and has been designed to give farmers a greater understanding of localised and seasonal climate variation.

It also includes information on the factors which drive climatic conditions such as El Nino - Southern Oscillation Index and the Indian Ocean dipole and links these phenomena to show how they affect rainfall your local area.

Farmer use

Graeme Anderson

Graeme Anderson

DPI seasonal risk specialist Graeme Anderson, said the website pooled information from the Bureau of Meteorology into one package specifically for farmers.

“The tool lets farmers look at what has happened in previous El Nino, La Nina and Indian Ocean Dipole years and see the effect on spring rainfall in their district in past seasons,” he said.

“The information also helps show how climatic drivers are likely to affect each coming spring rainfall season - it’s effectively a form guide for seasonal conditions that farmers can use to help plan their farm management options.

“If you listen to the media you can easily get a distorted view of seasonal conditions. With this tool you can look at how past El Ninos and La Ninas have influenced spring rainfall in your district.

“Knowing when and where to look is important. For our part of the world, the key time to look is during winter to get a heads up for the spring outlook, which is when these ocean indicators have the most reliability.”

“This sort of information is really valuable over spring which is where most people with livestock grow two-thirds of their pasture.”

“It’s also interesting to see the recent trends in temperatures - especially in spring. In six of the past 10 years spring temperatures have been 1-2°C warmer than the long-term average.”


The historical rainfall and temperature information covers three locations in each region:

  • Mallee - Swan Hill, Hopetoun, and Mildura
  • Wimmera - Nhill, Longrenong and Edenhope
  • Northern Country - Yarrawalla south, Yarrawonga and Big Hill
  • North East - Corryong, Benalla and Harrietville
  • East Gippsland - Omeo, Genoa and Orbost
  • West and South Gippsland - East sale, Mirboo North and Inverloch
  • North Central - Maryborough, Broadford and Alexandra
  • Central - Ballarat, Narre Warren North and Winchelsea
  • South West - Ararat, Hamilton and Warrnambool

Each location has at least 100 years of rainfall data available for analysis. Around 13 locations have a high-quality temperature data set without urban influence. For local temperature analysis, the closest continuous high-quality data set is used.

“The information also ties in with the free DPI monthly newsletter called ‘The Break’. Mr Anderson said there were also regular webinars covering seasonal conditions for farmers interested in seasonal forecasts.

“We are also happy to talk to farmer groups about how to interpret seasonal forecasts and put the information into a regional context as well as show people how to use the website,” he said.

For more information visits or call Graeme Anderson on 0419 002 641.


Ram selection

A ram’s effect on a flock lasts many years so it’s critical to buy the right genes for production, quality and disease resistance.

MERINOSELECT a n d LAMBPLAN breeding values help select those genes.

RamSelect is a practical one day workshop building confidence to:

  • select rams for all breeds
  • define breeding objectives
  • assess rams using figures and visual assessment
  • prepare for the auction or selection day
  • invest in rams for production and profit

If your BESTWOOL/BESTLAMB group is interested in hosting a RamSelect workshop contact: Lu Hogan on 0427 687 432

US market potential

US consumers have the potential to eat a lot more lamb.

Steve Starnes from US processor Strauss Brands told the LambEx audience that the annual consumption of lamb was just 454 grams per person, of which 145 grams was lamb imported from Australia.

In contrast, the average US consumer chewed their way through 32.6 kilograms of poultry, 23.5 kg of beef, 20.4 kg of pork and 7.2 kg of seafood each year.

US lamb production for 2011 is estimated to be in the order of 67 million kilograms which is boosted by the importation of 40 million kilograms of lamb from Australia and 18 million kilograms of lamb from New Zealand.

Adapting to climate

Research into how southern livestock producers can adapt to climate variability over the next 20 years has found that Victorian producers are likely to experience much shorter springs and may need to adjust lambing times.

A three year modelling project funded by MLA and AWI used global climate models, local weather data and producers’ production and financial data to estimate future weather conditions in 2030 and its impact on farm productivity and profitability.

It found that most grazing systems in southern Australia would be challenged with increased temperatures and reduced rainfall reducing pasture productivity by 15-20 per cent by 2030 with warmer winters, shorter springs and longer summers.

Victorian producers are likely to experience greater winter pasture production but with a shorter spring prompting the need for earlier lambing, and there was potential for lucernebased pasture in low rainfall mixed livestock cropping zone.

Newsletter contributions

We are keen to hear suggestions for this newsletter and are happy to take contributions. Phone Wendy Paglia on 03 5731 1206.

From the Chaiman

Farewell to Annette Taylor

Annette Taylor

Annette Taylor

Annette Taylor is retiring after 16½ years with the Department of Agriculture.

Annette is known to numerous BESTWOOL/BESTLAMB members as the program administrator from 2004 onwards before handing the reins over to Wendy Paglia this year.

Her retirement follows the decision by the Department of Agriculture to close the Ararat office.

“I had the option of moving to either Hamilton or Horsham, but I was already winding back and only working two days a week, so retirement seemed like a logical choice,” Annette said.

Annette’s involvement with the Department began as a contractor when she worked on a Quality Management for Woolgrowers book for David Marland at the Ararat office.

The part-time position became full-time when David was appointed as the state-wide wool program manager for the Department.

Annette started processing the invoices for the newly formed BESTWOOL program and took over the full administration of the program in 2004.

“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with BESTWOOL/ BEST LAMB and have seen a lot of changes as the program has evolved and expanded,” she said.

“Back in 2004, we were dealing just with woolgrowers, with the support of Australian Wool Innovation.

“Later, the program grew to include prime lamb producers which engaged Meat and Livestock Australia as a supporter.”

Mrs Taylor said the program had gone through a number of significant changes and challenges as a result of conditions such as drought and the introduction of fees.

“It has been really rewarding seeing the program develop to the stage where it can take information from researchers and organisations and present it to woolgrowers, who can pick up the technology and techniques if they want, and use them to improve their productivity and profitability.

“Some groups have set up producer demonstration sites, which have given members a chance to test technology in their district.”

Mrs Taylor said the program had also established an annual conference. which had proven to be very popular, and had introduced phone seminars on a range of topics.

The program also had the ability to respond to the needs of groups with particular issues such as Ovine Johnes Disease, fire and drought.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time with BESTWOOL/BESTLAMB and have met so many wonderful people.”

Annette plans spending her new found freedom travelling, catching up with jobs around home, minding grandchildren, smelling the roses and walking the dog.


We know what they mean ...

A Wall Street Journal employee compiled the following list of actual headlines that appeared in various papers that the Journal staff rated as the most entertaining:

  • Panda Mating Fails; Vet Takes Over
  • British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
  • Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge
  • Include Your Children When Baking Cookies
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should be Belted
  • Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case
  • Prostitutes Appeal to Pope
  • Clinton Wins on Budget; But More Lies Ahead
  • Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Axe
  • Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • Two Sisters Reunite After 18 Years in Checkout Counter
  • War Dims Hope for Peace
  • If Strike Isn’t Settled Quickly, It May Last a While
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Enfields Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
Christmas Card - Best wishes from BWBL