Greetings to all
It has been a most unusual season in my area 80km north of Auckland City – but regrettably within the city’s boundary (this has been a source of much anguish as we see our rates siphoned off to central city projects while there are still 700km unsealed roads and these lack basic maintenance). We had a normal summer until March when we had 324mls of rainfall which was followed by a very wet April with 375mls. This amounts to half our average annual rainfall. As a result, there was excellent growing conditions and an abundance of grass. This in turn ensured the sheep in particular were not grazing at ground level, which in the north, harbours a range of fungi, many of which product health threatening toxins. Facial Eczema was at low levels, with no clinical animals. Pneumonia – commonly known as viral pneumonia – may have been present but there were no very sick lambs and no deaths. This contrasts greatly with 2007 when we lost 8% of our ram lambs with an equal number of ‘walking skeletons’, and the whole mob struggled to gain weight between weaning and winter weighing (15 June 2017). Five years ago, 10% of ram lambs weighted lighter in June than when they were weighed at weaning in December. The average weight gain for that year from weaning to winter weighing was abysmal. This problem has nothing to do with the genetics, but has everything to do with the lambs consuming a cocktail of toxins which thrive in moist humid conditions. These include the toxin Zearalenone, produced by a fungi known as Fusarium, which has been found by Ruakura Research to reduce lambing percentages by 20% by supressing ovulation rates. I believe that this toxin can prevent ewes ovulating altogether and perhaps having very late lambs once the toxin decreases later in the tupping cycles. There are a few more ewes scanning multiples this year. I will be interested to see if the multiple rates vary between ewe mating mobs which is a sure indication of the presence of this toxin. Last year, there was a threefold difference in the rate of multiples between the top and bottom mating mobs. Forty years ago Ruakura found that there was a very significant difference in the presence of Zearalenone between paddocks (the fungi that produces Zearalenone is present throughout New Zealand, but is more evident where warm humid conditions prevail. Obviously this poison impacts on the SIL computer generated figures and some sheep will be favoured or disadvantaged depending upon the level of toxins consumed in different paddocks.
I have just spent $1100 to obtain an update of the SIL computer generated performance figures relating to all my ewes. I did this because I decided to reduce the number of ewes from about 920 to about 750, so will drop the ewes with the lower figures. These figures are very comprehensive and because of my tagging system, all ewes fall into sire groups, so it is most interesting to see how the daughters of various sires are performing. 700 or so ewes will be sufficient to make good genetic progress and will produce sufficient ram lambs to give clients a good selection to pick from. In the north, there are so few sheep the demand for rams is very limited. There is little sense in producing good rams that finish up in the dog tucker paddock.
Ram Breeder Forum
Over the past four years, Beef and Lamb Genetics has organised ram breeder forums. This year I attended my third forum Napier in late June. It was a good opportunity to meet up with other breeders and scientists. The whole focus of the conference was on performance and subjects like structural soundness, physical and wool qualities were never mentioned. However, in the open forums there was considerable emphasis on the importance of breeding for disease resistance including parasite resistance. I left with the feeling that the gulf between the academics that are directing performance programmes and the average ram breeder is considerable, and causes me some concern.
Worm FEC Group formed
You may have noticed that I called a meeting of ram breeders who are breeding for worm resistance using scientifically approved protocols. There have been an average of just over 30 breeders breeding for the worm resistant trait over the past 27 years. Romney, Perendale, Coopworth and Composites are the main breeds involved. However, most breeders have not stuck with it and very few have been breeding for this trait for more than 20 years. It is hoped the new group will combine their resources to promote the concept of enhancing the immune system to control worm challenges.
Worm Resistance Progress
Following last year’s success of having 88% of sale rams that had never been drenched, three faecal egg counts were taken last year and only those with very high counts were drenched. This year there were two faecal egg counts taken. They were never drenched before the first count taken around 20th January where the average was 4,129 with the highest count reaching 22,225 eggs per gram. Only a handful of lambs with the highest counts were drenched, with the remainder being sampled on 27th February. Because there was a considerable delay in receiving the worm count results I decided to drench all lambs on the 19th March – their first drench. This decision was made as the conditions were most favourable for an explosion of worm numbers because of regular warm rains. The day after drenching, the results arrived and showed a significant drop in faecal egg counts to an average of 1,154. So in fact the lambs did not require drenching with their own immune systems bringing the challenge under control. On analysing these figures, 85% of lambs had significant reductions in FEC from the first count. 5% remained about the same, with only 10% having increases from the first to second count. The biggest decrease was from 10,780 to 840. Basically, after 30 years of selecting the best for this trait, the battle has been virtually won. All that remains is to consolidate the gains to a point where the vast majority of lambs are protected by the immune system from even the most severe of worm challenges. In the last SIL ranking of sires for worm resistance, where the top 100 sires from all ram breeders involved in the Worm FEC programme were ranked, Kikitangeo had 5 of the top 6 and 12 of the top 16.
This year’s rams
For the first time in 6 years, we do not have a sire dominating the rams for sale. 6 years ago, KIKI G323-09 was dominant and over the past 2 years KIKI K815-12 has been a most prominent sire. K815-12 has also bred top daughters which, at this stage, are showing top figures. So this year, we have new sires, all by G323-09 and K815-12 plus several top sires from John Reeves and Keith Abbott.
At weaning time, I was disappointed with the weights and put this down to the fact that the majority of ewes were run on our mountain country, where the grass was less than desirable and the prevalence of cattle ticks on both ewes and lambs didn’t help. Since weaning they have stayed healthy and grown better than for many years in spite of minimal drenching. Plenty of grass with a minimum of hot humid days over the February/March period helped.
At winter weighing they averaged 4.6kg better than the previous year. I like to have the lambs 40kg or better by June to look the part by sale time. Last year we had about 120 in this category but this year there are about 320. This year, they look healthier with no coughing and are carrying more condition, so after shearing, I expect them to grow out well. All this means is that there should be many more to select the same rams from, with an overall higher standard. Sadly, with ewe numbers continuing to fall, I fear that many good worm resistant and FE tolerant rams may not find a home. With a very wet winter, the wool on the thighs and bellies has rotted off at about half staple.
All this wet weather has given the feet a strong challenge. There has only been the odd lamb with a limp but we have had several cases of foot abscesses. These foot abscesses respond well to a shot of antibiotic.
I would urge all my clients to limit their drenching programmes. For those farming where the Barbers Pole worm is not a problem, I believe that for the first generation lambs by my sires would perhaps only require one drench. With second generation lambs I believe drenching could be dispensed with. However, where the Barbers Pole worm is present, I would advise more caution. With passing generations, the drenching programme should be reduced and perhaps only drenching those lambs that obviously show signs of parasitism.
Rural Delivery TV Visit
We had a visit by this team in late June. It rained the whole time, so I do not know how it will turn out. I do not know when this will be on screen. Rural Delivery is screened on TV1 at 7.00am on Saturday mornings.
Trish and I wish you all the best for lambing and the coming season.