Farm Size, Location and Contour
The farm is a 600 hectare property. The original 180 hectares of virgin bush was taken up in 1874 by Joseph and Charles Levet, the present owner’s grandfather and grand uncle. The contour ranges from gently sloping to hard steep hill country with some precipices. Soil type ranges between sandstone, limestone and clay. Without fertiliser and lime the land has little natural fertility.
Health Challenges at Kikitangeo
Heat combined with humidity are the major factors affecting sheep health and production. The Auckland province is renowned for its humidity. This factor, when combined with mild winters allows parasites and fungal organisms to ‘winter over’, creating a challenging environment for sheep. Where you have litter in pasture, then add moisture and heat an ideal breeding ground is created for parasites, fungi and other micro-organisms. These include the fungal families, which produce toxins causing facial eczema and grass staggers. There may be other toxins produced by fungi (not yet discovered), which cause ‘ill thrift’ in lambs.
A drop of up to 20% in lambing percentage can result when the fungi Fusarium (which produces a toxin zearalenone) is present in pasture in late summer-autumn. This toxin reduces ovulation rates resulting in more dries and less multiples especially in young sheep. Other diseases like pneumonia (often known as viral pneumonia) can affect up to 95% of lambs over the Feb-April period. Generally between 5 and 10% of lambs will die with many other being affected for life. Then there is Yersinia; which is always present in the soil,and emerges when the conditions are suitable; over the May -June period. Similar to salmonella, Yersinia will be devastating causing many sick lambs and a considerable death rate. This disease is common in young deer and can also severely affect calves. The Barbers Pole worm (Haemonchus Contortus) is a killer worm and as little as 500 mature worms can drain an adult sheep of blood in a matter of days. Sheep have died from this worm in the months from September through to June.
Although most internal and external parasites are common throughout NZ (with exception of the Barbers Pole worm) they are more abundant and have a greater impact as one progresses north into sub tropical areas. However, one parasite is unique to the North and that is the cattle tick. Basically, south of the Bombay ranges it is not a problem. It is present from August through to February. It has a four year life cycle and can kill sheep over the October-December period. It not only sucks blood but also injects a toxin. For performance recording purposes it is a nightmare in that sheep are affected to varying degrees. The removal of blood, be it by cattle tick or the Barbers Pole worm, will have a detrimental effect on both the immune system and all production aspects.
The net result of these problems is that growth rates of lambs over the February to June period are poor to non existent (in one year 7% of our ram lambs were lighter in June than they were at weaning six months earlier). However in this environment, the good news is that by selecting those animals which thrive, then over a period of years, this will result in a flock that has resistance to all these challenging factors.