The year 2020 will go down in history as very eventful for many unfortunate events. These events, including climate change may well be the new normal. For me personally, 2020 has also been very eventful and at times, traumatic. Details to follow.
Changes at Kikitangeo
I am stepping back from the management of the Kikitangeo Farm. My three daughters will take over the overall management of the farm, part of which has been in the family for 146 years. The Romney Stud was founded 98 years ago.
Sale of the Stud
It was hoped that the stud would continue under a stud manager whom I had trained for two and a half years. Unfortunately, Connor resigned in April and we were unable to find a replacement, so in the interests of my health, it has been decided to sell the stud. Initially, this was very disappointing, but now I am quite comfortable with the decision. The 2020 Annual Ram Sale will continue, provided we are at the appropriate Covid levels.
We plan to sell all sound ewes from between 2016 and 2018 at a dispersal sale on 24 February 2021. We haven’t yet decided if we will also sell the ewes born 2015. We will retain the old ewes to maintain a remnant of the stud to breed our own rams. We may retain a small number of 2th ewes – not more than 30 - so there could be between 350-400 ewes for sale. It is also planned to sell this year’s ewe lambs at a later date.
The season at Kikitangeo
The spring was dry last year and in November, we were facing a very serious drought. Fortunately, we had useful rains in December, but from January on, it was very dry with only 34mls being recorded over the Jan-March period. Only 58mls fell in April. The spring crops failed. However, there were several positive aspects that I have never seen before. Normally, we have a major fly problem starting late September, through to the end of April. Sometimes, we spray the sheep twice. Invariably we lose the odd sheep, because they find a place to hide. The last season was unbelievable for the absence of all flies, including the annoying house flies. We only saw two cases of slight fly strike. The second positive was stock health. Stock health was the best I have seen in my farming experience. There was virtually no pneumonia and the lambs, in spite of rubbish grass and a minimum of drought stricken crops, were remarkably healthy. Normally lambs are coughing over the whole autumn – early winter period and sometimes into spring. This whole season there was minimal coughing. The net result is that all lambs have been in the best health they have been for many decades.
A kind offer
I was very moved to receive a phone call from a fellow ram breeder, Eric Laurenson from Fairlie (who has bought sires over recent years), offering grazing for my ram lambs since he had heard that we were in a drought situation. Eric indicated there would be no charge for grazing. Serious consideration was given to this offer. I also knew other Romney breeders I have known for many decades would help out. Eventually, I decided not to take up this offer, which would have cost $20,000 in transport, mainly because the lambs were healthy under the drought conditions. Eric’s generous offer demonstrated a fine spirit of comradeship.
Progress in breeding for worm resistance
This programme is growing at an ever increasing pace. The measure for worm resistance in the SIL programme known as DPF, is a combination of several measurements. In layman’s term, on the DPF measurement 0.00 is an average figure. A minus figure would indicate an animal is worse than average for worm resistance, and an above average would have a positive number. The 2017 born rams had an average DPF of 558, with 21 over 800, and 3 over 900. Two years later, this year’s sale rams have an average DPF of 716 with 180 over 800, 70 over 900, and 17 over 1000. One young sire with 28 sons, had 16 of 1000 plus. This rate of improvement would be considered impressive by any measure.
Over many years, a theory has been constantly advanced by responsible advisors in the sheep world that breeding for worm resistance would have a negative impact on productive traits, especially growth. Especially this has been the case with Beef & Lamb sponsored Wormwise presentations that have been conducted country wide. This theory is that “breeding for worm resistance would involve the immune system which would require energy, and this energy would be diverted away from productive traits – especially growth”. I have called this a theory because to become a fact, trials would need to be conducted with sheep with a high degree of resistance to worm challenges. Such sheep haven’t been available for trial work. Unfortunately this theory has, over many years, been advanced as a fact, and it is now generally accepted as a fact. After 34 years of collecting and analyzing faecal worm egg counts from around 25,000 dung samples, I have not noted any negative effects, in fact I believe the opposite to be the case, as growth figures on my SIL reports have been positive. An independent person will assess the data to see if my assessment is correct.
This year’s lambing
The number of multiple births was significantly lower this year, not I believe due to the drought (because the ewes were in better than average condition), but because of the presence in the pasture of the toxin Zearaleone, which suppresses ovulation rates. This toxin is produced by fungi, Fusarium, and possibly other fungi. The effects of this toxin results in fewer multiple births, especially in young ewes, and I believe that early in the season when toxin levels are high, some of these young ewes will fail to ovulate altogether.
The net result is a lot of late lambs, when the toxin decreases and the younger ewes start ovulation. All fungi are present in dominant ryegrass pasture and not present in crops and clover. We had a dream run at lambing with fine weather and few lamb deaths. At docking, I have never seen the ewes in such good condition. All the lambs are doing extremely well and the usual large number of very average lambs is virtually non-existent this year. I can’t explain why this is so.
This year’s sale rams
I am extremely pleased with the sale rams this year. Currently, there are about 200 rams in the sale mob, out of a total of 450, and these will have to be reduced to a number that we think will sell. It always feels like a waste of good genetics to think that a lot of good sheep will have to go to the works.
Finally, I wish you all good health and a prosperous season.