OJD rules prompt move north

Apsley first-cross ewe breeder Don Murdoch.WESTERN Victorian sheep producers Don and Jo Murdoch have made some important changes to their business model to improve their flock bio-security and adapt to changed Ovine Johnes’ Disease rules.

The Murdochs have been one of the larger suppliers of first-cross ewes to the annual Naracoorte sale from their Apsley property, selling about 2000 ewe lambs annually.

But as South Australia persists with accepting only breeding sheep from Vic with four or more points under the OJD assurance-based credit (ABC) scheme and as the disease’s prevalence increases in Vic, the Murdochs have made plans to breed their own replacement Merino ewes.

They have bought a property at Telopea Downs, 130 kilometres to the north, as a Merino ewe breeding farm and are stocking it with Merino ewes, including 853 ewes carrying four ABC points bought at SA’s Blanchetown off-shears sale last month.

“We can’t grow Merino ewes out here very well – it’s too cold – so we have had to go north,” Mrs Murdoch said.

To maintain the bio-security of the operation, the Telopea Downs property will be run independently of the Apsley home farm and have a separate property identification code (PIC) number.

Young Merino ewes bred at Telopea Downs will be taken south to the Apsley farm to be used as first-cross ewe mothers.

“We are going back into breeding our own (Merino) sheep, simply because I am of the belief, that with the OJD rules as they are, it is only a matter of time before you would get OJD if you are buying in sheep,” Mr Murdoch said.

“But by buying sheep from a low-risk area (SA) hopefully you have eliminated some of the risk.”

The Murdoch’s Apsley property holds four ABC points after a vaccination and abattoir testing program.

The Telopea Downs property is also in West Wimmera Shire and holds only two ABC points, which means the Murdochs face years of work through vaccination and abattoir testing to get the required four ABC points.

Until the Telopea Downs property starts to turn off breeding ewes, the Murdochs will continue to produce ABC score four first-cross ewes from Apsley.

The Murdochs estimate the stigma of yarding Vic sheep at Naracoorte first-cross sales has cost them up to $10 a ewe lamb in the past and they are hoping their bio-security measures and the OJD score on their Apsley-grown sheep will change that.

“Hopefully we will get a good name for good clean sheep,” Mr Murdoch said.

The Murdochs believe more SA and Vic abattoirs needed to be available for OJD testing to widen the net against the disease.

Mr Murdoch understood SA’s approach to only allow breeding sheep with four ABC points into the State, but he believed the State had “come off second best” by limiting the number of sheep SA producers could access, while Vic producers could bring sub-four point sheep from interstate back to their properties.

“But at the end of the day you would think a SA producer has more chance of avoiding OJD than a Vic producer and surely that’s what it is all about eventually,” he said.

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