Animal health has also been exceptional. Summer/Autumn ill thrift in the lambs has been minimal with virtually no coughing and only the odd case of pneumonia which has not been severe. Normally I have a battle to get my ram lambs through the autumn period alive, let along gaining weight. About three years ago 10% of ram lambs were lighter at June weighing than they were at weaning 6 months earlier. This year all lambs were above weaning weights and some had gained 25 kilos which is virtually unprecedented on my property. The overall result is that winter weights are up about 6 kilos on recent years. In most years a lot of lambs with very good backgrounds and worm resistance do not make the cut for the sale because of autumn ill thrift. Not so this year as I will have about double the ram lambs to select from, so the final line-up will be exceptional. Unfortunately because of low ewe numbers in the North there is only limited demand so many rams with good backgrounds and disease resistance will not find homes, and will be destined for slaughter.
One of the positive aspects of farming sheep in my area of high challenges; (from disease and parasites) is that it is basically a case of the ‘survival of the fittest’. Add to this the fact that lambs are only drenched when worms reach life threatening levels (4000 to 40000 eggs per gram of dung) and you have an overall mix that will breed tougher sheep that can thrive even under severe challenges.
Pneumonia in the past was a major problem, with even in a good season 5% losses would be expected from February through to April. Add another 10% of lambs that just survived, but were permanently affected. Over the past decade pneumonia has been on the decline to a point where there was only the odd case of mild pneumonia this year. I believe that we now have a fair degree of resistance to this disease due to natural selection and the breeding practices I have been following. Scientists acknowledge that there are genetic factors regarding pneumonia so it is possible to breed for resistance. Over the past decade the tape worm problem has disappeared.
FACIAL ECZEMA TOLERANCE
This last season 13 rams were tested at 0.50 with 11 coming through with nil reactions and two having a marginal and slight reaction. This would indicate that about 85% of lambs would pass the test. This year we will probably test to 0.55 or 0.58 depending on expert advice. This is one of the hardest things I have to do, pouring poison down the throats of my top rams. In this year’s mating, 4 rams were used from other flocks; Reeves and Abbott that have been FE tested to 0.60 (the ultimate test for FE is 0.60).
I have a good working relationship with Jon Morgan the editor of the NZ Farmer who has already printed about three of my articles and has agreed to publish further articles. However this all takes time, so any further contributions will only occur as time permits. The article on the toxin zearalenone which suppresses ovulation rates in ewes over the late summer months created considerable interest as most farmers in the North were unaware of this toxin produced by a fungi which is present in the pasture. In the article I suggested grazing ewes on alternate species like crops, chicory etc. prior to mating, particularly the young ewes. This year I followed my own advice and grazed my two tooths on a brassica crop a fortnight prior to mating. During mating they were back on pasture probably high on zearalenone levels. The results were interesting. 90% of the crop fed two tooths took the ram in the first 17 days. Only 50% of the 4 tooths took the ram over that same period, and the older aged ewes averaged around 70%. What did surprise me was that the return rate over the next 17 days varied greatly. The 2 tooths had a return rate of 10% the 4 tooths 22% the 6 tooths 14% and the older ewes were at 9%. As a result of this information we plan to have sufficient alternative plant species to graze all our ewes on prior to mating in next year’s mating.
WORKING WITH SCIENTISTS
I continue to work closely with Dr Jon Hickford at Lincoln and Dr John McEwan of Invermay. Both are using blood and tissue samples from Kikitangeo sheep in their search for genes and increasing their research in the DNA field.
WORM RESISTANCE PROGRAMME
We are continuing to make significant progress in this field. I believe that this progress is accelerating at an increasing rate. We are now at a stage where a high percentage of lambs can survive and thrive without drenching. I am confident that those clients using my sires for the first time could cut out drenching by half with this progeny. In the second generation the drenching programme would be further reduced. It is of considerable interest that Sainsbury’s, the UK supermarket chain has contributed £200,000 towards the promotion and breeding for worm resistance in New Zealand. This year’s data on the faecal egg counts on this year’s ram lambs feature in the 'Articles' section of the website.
WORM STAR GENE
About eight years ago, the discovery of a gene known as the ‘worm star gene’ was heralded as a major breakthrough. From memory, sheep carrying a double copy of the gene would, on average, have 20% resistance to worms (one copy would give 10%). Commercial interests took over the marketing of this technology. Many ram breeders became involved in breeding for this gene, which I am sure would have pleased their clients. However, there were other factors which meant that sheep could carry two copies of the gene but actually have no resistance to worms.
Scientific opinion now is that there is little, if any, benefits provided by this gene in breeding for worm resistance. Breeders using this option, despite the best of intentions, have been misled.
It is interesting that the protocols set up by Dr Tom Watson from Ruakura for Kikitangeo to breed for worm resistance nearly 30 years ago, are still regarded as the best to breed for worm resistance.
2015 RAM SALE DATE
This year’s ram sale is scheduled for Wednesday 2 December 2015.
100 to 120 top Romney rams will be offered for sale, the number depending upon enquiries prior to cataloguing. A limited number of Romney rams will be available after the sale. A usual line up on Suffolk, Southdown and Texel cross will also be auctioned.
And in conclusion, although lamb prices have been extremely disappointing this year I feel the long term future for sheep prices are good. As far as the Kikitangeo stud is concerned I feel we are now achieving the results that I have always been aiming for; a flock of high quality, productive and disease resistant sheep.
I wish all my clients, and readers of these ramblings all the best for the coming season.