WANDERING Shire president and farmer Brendan Whitely has found “the best job ever” with his own business Sheep Shower WA.
Providing sheep farmers with the option to shower their sheep to help eradicate lice is something he wished he had done years ago.
Mr Whitely said if people had enough sheep he could travel all across the State to work for them.
“Honestly, it’s the best job I’ve ever had – I wish I had done this 20 years ago,” Mr Whitely said.
The Whitely’s own about 800 hectares, five kilometres from Wandering.
He said they ran up to 5000 head of Merino sheep, as well as crop oats, barley and canola, until a number of poor seasons from 2006-2011 directed his thoughts to look at alternative options.
In 2013 he decided to lease out two thirds of the farm, not having the heart to totally abandon his family tradition of sheep farming, and bought the mobile sheep shower system.
“The sheep shower is one option for treating lice,” Mr Whitely said.
“There are different methods.
“We have grown in the number of clients by 15 per cent each year.
“There is definitely a demand for this type of treatment.”
The mobile sheep shower is a big stock trailer capable of holding up to 90 sheep, depending on their size, with a system of sprayers above and beneath that shower the sheep for about three to five minutes, depending on the length of the wool.
The chemical wash soaks into the wool and drenches the exterior of the sheep for maximum coverage – killing the lice.
Mr Whitely said to get the best results from the shower the sheep needed to be treated two to six weeks after shearing, before their wool had grown back too much.
“We average about 2500-3000 head per day, but we can go up to 5000 if there is enough sheep and good management on farm,” Mr Whitely said.
“Through January to March we do more because of the warmer weather.
“We have to stop earlier in the day in winter to allow sheep to dry off.”
Mr Whiteley, along with Young’s Regional Sheep Showering owner Jamie Young, Kojonup, operate mobile showers which were owned by Eric Webb who has since retired.
Having been to school in Perth, and with little experience in agriculture Mr Young obtained his truck driver’s licence and now provides services as far north as Williams to Esperance.
“I spent four years working in dad’s business,” Mr Young said.
“I went to university to study nutrition and health science but didn’t enjoy that like I thought I would.
“I’ve been operating the business for two years now.
“It’s been great.
“I get to travel all over and meet lots of people.
“It’s interesting dealing with people.
“So many people have different ways of handling livestock – so I’ve learnt a lot from them.”
Mr Young said he had to start the business from scratch once he took over and was slowly building it up through word of mouth.
He said the work fluctuated from year to year – although last year he showered 100,000 sheep.
Mr Young said the season started in September and went through to the following April.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) veterinary officer Dr Jennifer Cotter said a number of methods were used to treat sheep lice and DPIRD would not preference one above another, as the focus was not so much on the method but on the application.
“Effective dipping for sheep lice relies on strict attention to detail being applied throughout the entire process,” Ms Cotter said.
“Chemical must be diluted at the concentration stipulated on the product label and maintained.
“The dipping process applies dipping fluid to the skin of the sheep.
“The sheep’s skin must be completely wet from that process and it is worth checking for wetting with an indelible pencil on the first mob of sheep dipped through once the water is conditioned.
“Dipping must be carried out in wool lengths of between two to six weeks post shearing to be effective.
“Dipping in longer wool risks failure of complete wetting of sheep and subsequently a breakdown in lice control.”
Sheep lice spend most of their time at the base of the wool fibres on the skin, where they consume surface debris, causing intense irritation in some animals.
They rely on the relatively constant environment in the sheep’s fleece as they are sensitive to extreme temperatures, light and water.
While temperatures above 45 degrees Celsius will rapidly kill eggs the optimum temperature for lice survival is 36-37oC, which is the approximate skin temperature of sheep under most conditions.
In spring-shorn sheep, lice population build-up generally occurs more slowly during the hotter, drier times of the year with lice numbers building more rapidly during the cooler months.
Most transmission occurs when sheep make direct contact with each other, such as between ewes and lambs and when sheep are yarded, in sheds or in camps.