At Kikitangeo we have had a very kind mild winter. The spring has been most unusual in that it has been relatively cold, but with sufficient rain to dispel fears of an early drought. The drought last summer which devastated much of the west coast of Northland basically started about 20km north of our property, so we only had a normal dry period. The ewes at mating were only average to better than store condition, but not fat.
Commonly known as viral pneumonia, this disease has been devastating at Kikitangeo since the 1950’s. However, over the past 5 to 10 years, t has become much less of a problem, and this year was barely noticeable. I put this down to three factors. First, in all probability seasonable conditions were probably less favourable. Secondly, we believe that the flock has developed a degree of natural immunity with only the best survivors making it into the breeding flock. We have also been careful in only selecting sires from those least affected by this disease. Thirdly, it is possible that the work I am doing to breed sheep with an immune system to combat the worm challenge could have an impact on the pneumonia bugs and the secondary infections that do the real damage. After all, the immune system is the common factor in controlling all disease and internal parasite challenges.
Dunedin Conference for Ram Breeders
I attended this 2 day seminar for two reasons. First, Beef & Lamb fronted up with $500 to help defray travel expenses for North Island breeders. Secondly, it gave me an opportunity to meet with other breeders and scientists. I was surprised at how many people, including Coopworth and Perendale breeders who approached me either to commend me for the work I am doing in breeding for disease resistance, or to quiz me on various aspects of breeding. Dr John McEwan of Invermay, whom I am working closely with on the “Worm FEC” programme, spoke with me on two matters. First, he has a young lady coming out from Ireland to work on new aspects of parasite research and wants my assistance in working with her. Secondly he has a very bright young graduate, a Dr Catherine McRae, who is going to be working I the pneumonia field. I had a lengthy discussion with her, particularly with the history of the disease and the research that various scientists have undertaken over the last 40 years.
This year’s lambing
After an excellent lambing 2 years ago, the last 2 lambing’s have been very disappointing. The pattern over the last 2 years has seen lower than expected results from our 2 tooth ewes. Few twins, lots of later lambers, and more dries than there should be (about 8%). The second lambers – 4 tooth’s – showed the same tendencies but less pronounced than the 2 tooth’s. Ewes 6 tooth and older were fine, with only 7 dries out of 410 ewes, or 1.7%. I put the problem down to a toxin known as zyearalenone. This toxin is produced by a fungi known as fusarium, and similar to other toxin producing fungi, is found in traditional pasture during the late summer-autumn period. This toxin suppresses ovulation rate which increases the dry ewe percentage and reduced twinning rates. If the toxin is at high levels over a prolonged period, then I believe ewes stop cycling. I am hoping to have an article in the NZ Farmer in the next few weeks.
This year’s rams
Pneumonia has been on the decrease over recent years, with little evidence of it this year. At Kikitangeo, we have great difficulty putting weight on our ram lambs from February through to May. This year some bug hit them in late May, causing them to get the scours and lose weight. $500 was spent with the vets trying to find some answers. Nothing significant was found. The rams eventually recovered but lost body weight takes months to restore. At this stage they are OK and in good condition. I am delighted with the overall quality of this year’s sale rams. I am very happy with the wool quality. Lance Pagani and Malcolm Todd – PGG Wrightson’s wool experts – were also so impressed they created a new quality score for two sheep this being “7+ excellence”. The following is their comments on the wool:
“The wool on this year’s sale rams is exceptional in every respect, with excellent colour and brightness, combined with bold solid locks, the bulkiness of the fleece is ensured. This type of wool, together with its water shedding ability is a guarantee that the fleece has lasting qualities. No yellowing was apparent in spite of a wet spring. With the evenness across the whole consignment, it would be difficult to achieve further improvement. This ensures that these Kiki rams will breed consistently for wool qualities”
Down Rams - Unfortunately, we have only one Southdown ram and six Suffolk rams for sale this year. However, we have a number of Texel sired rams out of Suffolk and Southdown ewes. We are impressed with their meat qualities, their hardiness and the quality of their feet. A high proportion of their feet are in the “A” and “A+” categories.
I have established a good rapport with Jon Morgan, editor of NZ Farmer and he is prepared to look at a series of articles I will write over future months – as time permits.
Finally, I am hoping that the cool spring will extend into summer, which should result in a better sheep environment with a lesser challenge from all the fungi that thrive under hot, damp and humid conditions.