What a difference a year can make. With the ups and downs – mostly downs – of sheep meat prices over the past 50 years it now appears that both mutton and lamb have settled down on a higher plane. I am particularly surprised to see the old ewe prices at a high level where even the dog tuckers are making near to $100. It would seem that with declining sheep numbers worldwide, lamb has become a ‘top of the market’ product unaffected by base meat products like poultry and pork.
This season at Kikitangeo has been basically good with unfortunately a very wet late winter period. Virtually no lamb losses due to the weather.
Once again we have struggled with our ram lambs over the late summer-autumn period. There were around 3% losses mainly due to pneumonia and other fungal problems which are associated with the warm humid conditions. Pneumonia often referred to as the viral pneumonia by farmers, although no longer the problem of the past, is still present as is evidenced by the high percentage of pleurisy cases found when lambs are killed at the works. (Pneumonia causes abscesses in the lungs and when these abscesses are adjacent to the ribs they cause the lungs to be fused to the rib cage which is then diagnosed as pleurisy). I believe that the fact that pneumonia is less severe over recent years is because sheep are developing a degree of immunity to the disease. We only select sires that show no signs of the disease over the critical period. I am also wondering if the stronger immune system that we are developing in our sheep to combat worm challenges is also having a desirable impact.
Because we have always applied pressure to our ewes over lambing in addition to the negative environment – the lambs wean lighter than on most stud properties, but this is not genetic. Also because of Autumn ‘ill thrift’ on my property my winter live weights are also much lighter than on virtually all other ram breeding operations. These light weights are again not genetic but environmental. Under these circumstances I believe the growth figures produced by SIL are compromised. If ram lambs reach 40kg by mid June they will generally grow out to be of acceptable size and weight by sale time. I feel that this environmental pressure plus the pressure of minimal or no drenching is overall resulting in a strain of sheep which have stronger constitutions, able to thrive in any environment.
Worm FEC Group
In June of last year a number of ram breeders breeding for worm resistance decided to form a group to promote the breeding for worm resistance, and trade mark themselves as genuine people breeding sheep for this trait working with scientists using approved protocols. Those breeders who meet criteria set by the committee and scientists will be known as Worm FEC gold members, similar to the FE Gold standard for the top breeders for facial eczema. Unlike the high standard set for FE Gold, the standard for Worm FEC Gold has been set fairly low to enable enough breeders to join, to ensure the group is financially viable. I have no doubt that this standard will rise rapidly as fears of drench resistance increases, and farmers become more aware of the genetic option.
This disease is now widespread throughout New Zealand, in both cattle and sheep. To ensure that rams do not die prematurely, we have vaccinated all lambs at weaning last year It is a costly vaccine and may not be economic for commercial use.
This year 28 rams have been tested between .50 and .60mg kg, most of which will be for sale. The cost of this is around $7,000.
Progress at Kikitangeo for the worm resistance trait
After 31 years of selecting for worm resistance the rate of progress seems to be accelerating at an ever increasing rate. Our policy on drenching is initially only drenching the bottom 10% of ram lambs in mid January to give them every opportunity to grow. The rest of the ram lambs are sampled around mid January, and when the results are available (normally about 3 weeks later) those lambs with the highest counts – over 7000 – are drenched along with other lambs that are not thriving through other causes. This process is followed throughout the summer-autumn period. The DPF figures provided by SIL (Sheep Improvement Ltd) gives an overall rating for worm resistance, with 0 being the New Zealand average with a minus figure indicating sheep that are more susceptible to worms and a plus figure being resistant. Thus a sheep with +200 would have a moderate degree of resistance whereas -200 would indicate a fairly susceptible animal. It took me 24 years to reach an average DPF of 310 with only 12% exceeding 500. In the past six years (2017) the average has reached over 600 with 10% exceeding 750. This year 3 rams have exceeded 900 with top ram hitting 983. The average figure has been reduced because three outside sires were used that had little worm resistance. I believe that sheep reaching a DPF of 600 would be totally resistant to worms in areas of New Zealand where the barbers pole worm is not the dominant worm species. Probably a DPF of 800 may be required to give total immunity to the most severe barbers pole worm challenge. Having reached the DPF mark of 900, I see no reason why we cannot breed sheep that average that mark. All of this has been like sailing a ship in unchartered waters, as the outcomes have been unknown.
This year’s rams
In spite of the worm challenge being high this year with regular rain and humid conditions the rams have done better that usual, with the winter weights being up several kilos. At this stage the rams are growing at a rapid rate and carrying more condition. (Often rams at sale time are only in forward store condition). Because they have been better this year, we have more to select from and currently there are around 190 up to sale standard. However they have yet to be passed by a vet and have their feet rated, with some being culled for foot structure. I also like to have a back up of rams in case some of my regular buyers miss out. (There is always the risk with an auction of a big operator arriving unexpectedly and buying a large number of rams). At this stage there appears to be more interest in Kikitangeo rams so extra rams; 15-20 will be offered.
My eldest daughter and son-in-law have just returned from 13 months overseas and Greg Ward will continue to work part time on the property. I have taken on a new lad, Connor Edwards, who last year graduated after 4 years from Lincoln. He has assisted me over the past year with the stud side of the operation. Fortunately he has the makings of a top stockman where he has a natural ability and combined with his academic abilities and contacts with scientists should prove to be a great asset for the stud operation. Todd Johnson also a valued member of the team has now been with me for a number of years will carry on assisting with management and helping in the stud when required.
Wishing you all the best for the coming season.