THE SHEEP INDUSTRY
After better prices about 3 years ago and a lot of positive rhetoric from the meat processors, particularly with our future in the Chinese marketplace, recent returns have been disappointing – some would say disastrous. The whole situation is exacerbated by the high dollar, ever increasing compliance costs and in some cases, disastrous losses from FE. As farmers, we are ever hopeful that things will improve even though these hopes seem to defy reality. Nevertheless, when we compare our country with other regions of the world, we still have a lot to be thankful for.
The season in the North, the summer, autumn and winter have been amongst the best for farming for many years. FE has not been a problem, not because the FE spores were not present, but because with an abundance of grass, stock were grazing above where the spores were present (most spores are found only a few millimetres above the ground level with few above 50mm or 1 inch). I only saw a couple of Suffolks with clinical signs.
As a consequence of a favourable summer, the ewes went to the ram in better condition than normal (in most seasons the ewes are only in store condition at tupping). In addition, we grazed our two and four tooths on alternate pasture species – chicory and plantain – to try to reduce the impact of Zearalenone on ovulation rates.
This year, 14 sires were used in 14 different paddocks. Four outside sires were used, two each from Keith Abbott and John Reeves. Two of these were ‘link’ sires used in our three flocks. In using these outside sires, I am taking a backward step for worm resistance, but gaining FE tolerance. The two rams purchased from Keith and John are both by one of my sires, so the loss of worm resistance is not great. I also used three ram lambs, each receiving around 60 ewes. In total just over 900 stud ewes were mated.
The lambing has been mainly trouble free with around 0.5% of bearings. Although the number of multiples was significantly higher this year, there was a very significant variation between sires. This variation indicates different levels of Zearalenone in different mating paddocks. Although a final lambing percentage is not available at this stage, I am generally satisfied as my ewes are never mated in top condition, are never drenched, and subjected to Zearalenone.
Over the past several years, I have been fortunate enough to have used two top sires. It has been my experience over a lifetime of breeding with a flock size of 700 – 900 ewes, that 2 or 3 outstanding sires will emerge each decade – as judged by the performance of their daughters and physical attributes – to be exceptional sires that have a considerable impact on the whole flock. In most cases, these sires leave either outstanding sons or daughters. Occasionally they will produce both. Over recent sires my most outstanding sire has been G323-09 (the K strain). He not only had by far the highest percentage of sons sold of any sire every year, but also had the top sons in the sale He also left top daughters that are now having a big impact on the whole flock. His son, K815-13, is also an outstanding sire but more especially as a producer of top sons. His first crop of daughters are producing a high percentage of twins, have great udders and are very good mothers (his progeny have a G on their tag and are known as the G strain). On the performance side, K815-13 has a high ranking in most areas. Since 1986, all sires are ranked in production and disease traits, a total of 186 sires. So K815-13 is ranked 4th for the overall index, 18th for growth, 4th for FE and 2nd for worm resistance. This ranking is out of 186 sires. His wool weight is about average, but is of top quality. The feet of the sons of K815-13 and his sire, G323-09 are exceptional. The impact of these two sires on my flock will be very significant. In this year’s mating the sons of G323-09 and K815-13 dominated with a total of 8.
On this day of penning this newsletter, I received the performance records of this year’s 2015 rams. The sons of K815-13 are outstanding. He had 99 sons out of a total of 487. On the overall index, which covers all production, survival and disease traits (worm resistance and FE), this sire had the top 12 ranking and 16 of the top 20. On the worm resistance ranking, he had the top 4 placings and 11 of the top 20. On growth, he was not quite as dominant, but was still above average with 7 sons in the top 20. Worm resistance is measured as a minus, so rams with the biggest minus are the most resistant. Over the past few years, we have had a few rams – fewer than 10 – reaching better than -60.00. This year, for the first time, we achieved -70.00 with 11 rams being over this mark. The top ranked ram reached -74.65. It would seem that worm resistance in this flock is now increasing fairly rapidly.
THIS YEAR'S RAMS
In spite of weaning weights being disappointing – many ewes running on our mountain, low fertility country, they have not suffered from ill thrift over the autumn months. The effects of pneumonia have been minimal, a far cry from the problems this disease posed in yesteryear. We believe our flock is now relatively resistant to pneumonia, probably a result of natural selection and the worm resistance programme I am involved in (the immune system is involved in both these health problems). As a result of the healthy autumn, many more rams suitable for sale will be available for sale selection, resulting in an overall higher standard.
For the first time, I will be offering for sale rams that have never in their lifetime been drenched. At this stage there could be upward of 80% of rams that fall into the “never drenched” category. All this information, including actual faecal egg counts will feature in this year’s catalogue.
This has been achieved in 30 years of intensive breeding for this resistance trait. Over that period, I estimate that 30,000 dung samples have been taken at an actual cost in today’s value of around $200,000. This cost does not include my time, which at $20 an hour would be in the vicinity of a further $30,000. Nevertheless, it has been worth it, as it has been a great learning experience, and the success achieved is icing on the cake.
Back to this year’s rams. I fully expect that the wool quality will be exceptional and with more to choose from the foot ranking will go up a notch.
This year’s Ram Sale will be held on Wednesday, 7 December. There will be approximately 120 rams catalogued. However, there will be a further approximately 30 rams available for sale after the auction at prices similar to the auction rates. Some of these rams will have excellent figures.
Over the years, because I am isolated from the primary sheep breeding areas, a number of very good rams, which would be of a much higher standard than many farmers use finish up in the killer paddock. If any farmer or agent introduces a new client to my sale, there will be an extra commission available.
Auckland City – currently the Local Bodies Commission is holding a series of meeting to listen to the opinions of people in my area with regard to Northern Rodney leaving the “Super City”. After 6 years of Auckland governance, it would appear that even more people support the ‘leave’ movement. However, the odds of that happening is not great, as we are up against a city that needs our rates for Auckland’s infrastructure woes, and the Government seem obsessed with the concept that “the bigger, the better” is the way forward for local governance. The growing power of bureaucracy is of real concern. Sadly, there has been a power shift from our democratically elected representatives to unelected officials, who in some cases abuse the power they possess.
I have established a very good rapport with Jon Morgan, Chief Editor of the NZ Farmer, who has printed a number of articles I have penned. It would seem that they have struck a chord with at least some readers. I have received a very good response to my article on Stockmanship, a skill not recognised or understood by many in the academic world. The problem is finding the time to write these articles. I have a number of other topics in mind, but time is the problem.
Spring is the time of new life, so I wish you all the best for the coming season.