Waidale Rams

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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Rural Urban Disconnect

There seems to be an ever increasing disconnect between those who live in cities and those who live in the Country.  Many have written like I am now and tried to disseminate information about issues that generally each group takes a difference stance on,  but if they only appear in rural publications, the disconnect continues.

My daughter recently told me she was asked about who I support in Politics, to which she said I think National (“not the greens she said at least”) to which the retort was along the lines “oh he would he is a farmer”).  Again, symptomatic of the disconnect.    For the record at this point, I probably will vote national as overall, I think they are better for the country as a whole, but are they perfect, hell no!

Most who support the Greens are students (which I was one, a student that is) who haven’t lived in the real world , the majority  have yet to experience the reality of what it is like to get by:  I would never have left University if it wasn’t for being broke all the time.  The other main support is the employed affluent sector of our population, who already have the money to live in a utopian world.     It’s easy to say this and that if you can afford to, but it’s a bit different if you are struggling to make ends meet.    Many of their policies sound great in isolation, but most come at a substantial cost and make living a normal life more expensive and contrary to popular belief a lot of what they want to achieve is already being done.

For example: I am a farmer, who is required to have a many paged document known as a farm environment plan as to what and how things should happen on my farm.   Underpinning this is a document detailing best farming practices, which I am to be measured against.  I am waiting in line for the completion of my nutrients budget plan that sets guidelines as to what fertilisers, how much crop, irrigation etc. is appropriate for my property, which becomes part of my Farm environment plan.   If upon inspection, with my supporting screeds of documentation detailing what I am doing, I achieve a particular grade I am reviewed every 2 years, if not it’s at every 6 months at my expense.   There are thresholds; in terms of the amount of winter crops grown and area of irrigation which if exceeded require a consent application.  

This bureaucracy, besides creating thousands of jobs and taking so much of my time and money already, is in play on mine and many other farms now.   On top of this, which is the most important if you are farmer, it is in your interest, both short and long term, to look after your environment in every respect as you want to continue farming in years to come.  It is a lifestyle choice to farm, you never have stacks of cash, you may accumulate an asset, but in most cases this is never realised as the next generation takes it on.  Accordingly, crudely and bluntly, it doesn’t make sense to poop in your own back yard.

The forthcoming general election highlights it even more, where political parties, all of them to varying degrees announce policies (policies is a bit generous, as to date its often a statement with no explication as to how it will be implemented, in what quantum, how it will achieve the purpose,  loosely termed a policy, to obtain votes).

When you vote you have to think of the good of the country as a whole, not simply how it affects you, difficult yes, but surely this what one should do?    For example take Labour’s proposed water tax if they become the government:  Issues to consider:

Who will this be imposed on:
·      all the public, including water consumed by everyone every day (the fairest way, given so much pollution of our water is caused by urban sprawl) probably not, not many votes in that.
·   On the exported bottled water,  which I understand constitutes o.o something of a percent of total water taken in this country, that will be a massive money earner, NOT;
·      On irrigation users, is that everyone, aquifer takes or just man made irrigation schemes such as Opuha that I am a shareholder of with all my paperwork above.   Opuha dam, privately owned, cost in the vicinity of $28 million.  Stores water that, if it didn’t exist, would be all running out to sea.   It is of benefit to Fish and Game as minimum flows have to be maintained in rivers even when a drought.  Opuha is lauded as probably the biggest contributor to South Canterbury economy in the last 20 years, directly and indirectly.  Not to mention it being a significant leisure resource to the area.
·       Horticultural and fruit growers, may be able to pass on their cost to the consumer, the rest no.

What effect will it have? 
·       The areas with the most polluted waterways in this country are the areas with little or no irrigation.  Most rural readers would know this by now as it has been canvassed in rural papers, but do our urban brethren know this; Accordingly a water tax on irrigation alone that has no relevance to the highly polluted areas is probably going to achieve 5/8 of nothing, except garner votes from uninformed voters;
·      A water tax  on shareholders of Opuha for example, will simply make it harder for a farmer to make ends meet, which will in turn impact on the whole south Canterbury economy;
·       Open up a huge can of worms regarding Maori rights to water, presently no one owns it.
When considering who to vote for, we need dissect all issues like this before deciding what stance to take on it.


Monday, July 10, 2017

Breeding a bloody good sheep isn't getting any easier

I attended the Beef and Lamb Sheep Breeders Forum in Napier this last week.   It’s a conference where breeders come and listen to various talks from scientists as to where we are heading with Genetic tools for breeding.    You meet and discuss a lot of issues with the experts and breeders a like.
While I learned a lot, I unfortunately came away feeling very uncomfortable about our future as breeders of sheep.    

One main theme was genomics, a DNA sample that (provided sufficient research and data has been gathered) will provide you with more accurate breeding values than what we presently get from Sheep Improvement Limited, SIL, via our phenotypic recording, i.e. weights etc.    One scientist stated if you are not genomically testing all your progeny then you shouldn’t be breeding sheep.   A farcical statement given for example I run a 1000 stud ewes, the cost of genomically testing all my progeny each year is around $35000 and while breeding value accuracies would be better, its not the panacea that makes breeding good sheep easy.   Sheep genetics is my passion and I am good at it, but do I have ram clients who will pay an extra $300 for rams to make it economic?   If you are one, give me a ring ASAP!! 

Scientists and breeders generally agreed that we need to be selecting for a lot of additional traits now; worm resistance, facial eczema, and feed efficiency etc, which I don’t disagree with.   However every additional trait you select for the difficulty in breeding a good sheep with that trait increases exponentially.    It is easier to breed a terminal sire than a dual purpose one, simply because you don’t have to worry about wool or fertility.   If you focus solely on one trait, you can make quick progress on that trait but inevitably at the expense of everything else.   To breed a good productive animal that is sound with all these additional traits takes generations of breeding!  It is highly likely that I will be dead before we do.

My other takeaway that concerned me was that the focus was entirely on performance recording to obtain genomic or phenotypic breeding values to breed a sheep.     This scares me because as I have said many times, you need to be a good stockman to breed a good sheep, figures alone won’t do it. Ultimately if a sheep is not good on its feet, teeth, colour, constitution etc then in the long term your production will decline.  I recently ran a report from the latest NZ SIL evaluation and reviewed the indexes and ebvs, of  my top 30 Romney ram lambs born in 2016 on SIL:  about half I culled as lambs as they weren’t  good enough structurally and I pride myself on how good the conformation of  my sheep are.  Finding a ram that is phenotypically put together right and with good figures isn’t easy. 
   
My last article re Headwaters and Alliance etc: it was reassuring to hear scientists and meat processors state that omega 3 and intramuscular fat is present in most sheep to varying degrees and does have an effect on taste, but there is a limit as to how much you want and more importantly its influence is  minor in the context of the other factors affecting eating quality, namely stress on the animal, the chance for the  animal to lay down fat before being killed, what it was being finished on, how long it is hung for, how it is cooked etc.    Accordingly if Alliance gave us some direction as to what they wanted us to finish these lambs on, we should all get paid the same!


Finally whenever someone wants to promote lamb, they seem hell bent on presenting it cooked as “rare”.   Both times last week I didn’t like the lamb, one lot I thought was bloody awful.   I like my steak medium rare, but my lamb/ mutton well cooked.  It might be just me, but if it’s not and we are promoting the eating quality of lamb then this is something we need to get right.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Primary Growth Partnership Research, should be made available to me?

I don't know the ins and outs of how all this works, but I do know that the money the government puts into a venture is money we give them as taxes, so in theory, this is an investment on our behalf.

I also know that as a shareholder of the Alliance Group (“Alliance”) any money the company contributes to a partnership programme should  be an investment on behalf of its shareholders.

Assuming this logic is correct, you would expect any venture entered into by the Government and Alliance and a private company called Headwaters (“the Venture”), would be done on my behalf, firstly as a taxpayer and secondly as an Alliance shareholder. 

Headwaters is a composite ram breeding operation, that presumably provides animals, property, and man hours as its share of the Venture. The Government's primary contribution is money.  Alliance, I believe, apart from providing killing facilities and data,  pays something like 20 cents per kilogram premium ( over and above what the rest of its shareholders get) for lambs killed through the Venture.  I understand this premium payment has been paid for many years now.

Recently Alliance publicly lauded the launching of a new brand of lamb produced by the Venture.  Apparently, this is fantastic tasting lamb with intramuscular fat, omega 3 etc.  I have requested more than once to see the research, data and findings of the Venture only to be fobbed off. 

I even had the Alliance chief executive David Surveyor come and visit me, primarily because of an invoice I sent to them for the additional costs associated with having to sell my heavy weight lambs through the Temuka sale yards.  As most shareholders would know you would get more money through the yards than killing them through Alliance as lambs over 23 kg were heavily penalised.

I considered this inequitable and ridiculous given that these same lambs were bought from the sale yard and then killed by meat companies, including Alliance. Alliance never paid my invoice, but to their credit (upon receiving the invoice), changed the policy so that loyal shareholders would not be penalised if a small percentage of lambs from a line killed were over this weight.    I have been advised recently that non-shareholders, through third party buyers, have also been getting the benefit of this change.

I appreciated Mr Surveyor coming to see me, but again it was made clear that the results, data, workings and findings of the Venture would not be made available to me.  

Anecdotally, I understand that they have found that grazing lambs on chicory for the last month before killing, has a positive and significant impact on the quality and taste of the lamb.  I also believe that from a genetic standpoint, no advancement or breakthrough has been made and if there is anything worth pursuing that it’s not unique to the Venture but is common to many if not all other breeds of sheep in New Zealand.

My point is that everything from the Venture should be readily available to me, firstly as a tax payer and secondly as an Alliance shareholder.  It would stop me guessing and if there are significant developments then it can benefit all of us. 


It seems to me the only organisation standing to gain significantly from the launching of this new brand of lamb, and the research and findings, apart from procurement of lambs for Alliance, is Headwaters.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Some basic legal advice?

As some of you will know I played lawyers for 6 years before returning to farming.  For most of that period I specialised in civil litigation, in other words I was a lawyer who tried to resolve disputes for clients over money which obviously includes property.

I am someone that if I am ripped off, scammed or cheated by someone or some entity, generally, I will do my utmost to hold that person or entity to account.  I do it, as I believe I have an obligation to the next person they deal with, to make them think hard and long before trying to scam, cheat or rip off their next customer.  I say generally because even I don’t fight everything, otherwise I would never get any farming done!

The following are hopefully some basic helpful tips that might help you avoid disputes or assist you once you are in one:

Never assume anything.   I recently changed power companies again on the farm, I was getting a very competitive rate on my irrigation supply, but months down the track I realised I was getting ripped on the power supply to the houses.
  
Be very explicit and clear as to what you expect some product/service to do or achieve.   Indeed you could record it in writing.    That way when the service or product doesn’t do what it is represented as being able to do, you have a strong argument to show grounds for having the product replaced, refunded or indeed compensation being paid, as it amounts to misrepresentation and/or it is not fit for the purpose for which it is provided.   There will be arguments as to who is to blame, but it is a good starting point if you have a record in writing as to what you expected it to do.

If something goes wrong with the product or service:  each time record this in writing with a date and your initial next to it as and when it happens.    This is what is known as a contemporaneous file note which can be used as evidence that it did in fact happen in any subsequent dispute.

There is nothing in writing:  Some transactions are required by law to be in writing, but most don’t.  The problem is if it comes down to your word versus another, then it’s a harder to prove who is telling the truth if nothing is in writing.  Again a contemporaneous file note of your discussion could be useful evidence later on.  If you have an independent witness who can corroborate what you say then that is strong evidence to support your case.

An account you dispute.  If you receive an account that you are not going to pay for whatever reason and simply ignore it, then such an account cannot be pursued through the disputes tribunal as you have not disputed the account, a prerequisite for a disputes tribunal.  If you don’t dispute it, it could be forwarded to a debt collector or pursued via the District Court. 
 
The flip side is if you dispute an account and communicate that to them, then such an account cannot be referred to a debt collector.   The dispute tribunal is the cheap way to have such matters resolved.  If you are seeking a refund or compensation, then if you can get the person or entity to dispute your claim partly or in its entirety, then you can pursue the matter through the disputes tribunal (depending on the quantum of your claim as there is a maximum limit) as opposed to issuing proceedings in the District court, which in many cases will be uneconomic to do so

Finally I know lawyers cost a bloody fortune, but from my days of practising as a civil litigator, the most common mistake clients’ made was to come to see their lawyer too late.  In many cases the parties have become so entrenched in their position, that it doesn’t matter how good the lawyer is the only route left is to issue court proceedings.  However if you go to a good lawyer early, before the parties hate each other’s guts, often the matter can be resolved fairly and quickly.


Saturday, April 8, 2017

Genetically Modified Food - who do you believe?

I watched a program recently about this and thought it would be an appropriate and relevant to offer some view on Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMO”) or Genetically Modified Food (“GMF”) as it’s commonly referred to.

As someone who likes to be well informed before expressing my opinion, I spent a number of hours researching including trolling the internet and trying to seek out someone who could shed some light on the topic.  All that effort was in vain as I still do not have a definitive view on the topic, primarily because it would seem that everything written has a predetermined agenda, in other words it’s phenomenally biased.   Moreover it seems nigh on impossible to find some person who can give you an independent view on it.

It was just like the program this last Sunday,  in my opinion the organic apple grower in the Hawkes bay was more concerned about protecting his organic export sales, than discussing the pros and cons of GMF.   His rationale was that the possibility of cross pollination from GMO crops to non GMO would mean he couldn’t market himself as GMO free or indeed organic.

The argument wasn’t about what the actual risk of this happening was or how this could be safeguarded against.  Moreover the grower thought that the government should not be able to override the Hawkes Bay district council labelling itself as a GM free zone, which was essential to the marketing of their apples.   An argument which was pretty farcical given that there is no difference between Hawkes Bay and other apple growing regions in New Zealand (in terms GMO crops at least) and if one day we had GMO crops in other regions, then the risk of cross pollination could of course easily come from another district outside of the Hawkes Bay, which makes a Hawkes Bay declaration as GME free bloody stupid (Yes it’s a decision to be determined on a National basis). Note as far as I am aware we don’t have any GMO crops in this country at all to date.  Although I would be surprised if we are not eating some food already that has some GMO food ingredients in it from overseas.

The apple grower’s other principal argument against GMO food was to say “go around the world and ask consumers what they want?”  Yes people with a good discretionary income (not poor or impoverished people) responded that they would rather buy organic food (which is not necessarily  the same as non GMO food).   From my reading it appears most consumers apparently buy organic food because they believe they are avoiding all pesticides”.  However one thing I did learn from my reading of various biased articles was the misnomer that organic farming means no use of pesticides.   Apparently a lot of pesticides are used (and often more regularly than conventional pesticides) so long as such pesticides are derived from “natural sources”, it’s okay.  Moreover there is some debate about the risk to human health and the environment with many of these pesticides organic farmers use.   The apples on the program I watched the other night looked amazing not like the ones grown in my backyard, that do grow naturally free of any attention from me whatsoever.  My point being that to justify your argument by saying this is what consumers want is pretty weak, when realistically these same consumers base their opinions on a marketing story that almost certainly doesn’t disclose all the relevant facts.

Unfortunately I am not in a position to advance the debate on what we should do in regards to GMO crops.  However I can recommend that if you want a short article that addresses the pro and cons of the debate, then google an article “Genetically Modified Food Pros and Cons List” written by a Crystal Lombardo. It’s a good starting point.   From this I agree wholeheartedly with the following quote:  If used properly, the science behind genetically modified food could be used to end hunger. If used improperly, the science could be misused and potentially endanger (sic) our entire food supply. This means that if we are to pursue this field of food science, we must have responsible management of the research being done and have third party independent verification and monitoring of results so that it becomes possible to distinguish fact from fiction.”


As such I conclude is this is definitely a decision to be determined by Government having regard to the above quote, not on adhoc basis by various regional or district Councils.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

More Rhetoric regarding the Wool and Meat Industry in New Zealand.

I am a passionate stud sheep breeder who obviously wants there to be a strong future for sheep farming in New Zealand, but what is the future, I don’t know?

I do know that I am sick to death of listening to commentaries on the topic which are just generalised generic crap, with no detail as to how we achieve these grandiose statements they make.

A perfect example of this recently was Damien O’Connor, the agricultural spokesperson for Labour, waffling in an interview with Jamie McKay on the Country along the lines: wool is a great sustainable product with health benefits, fire resistant blah blah, they need to get out there and market the product, too long nothing has been done by the government, by processors, by blah blah.  I don’t recall exactly what he said but it was along these lines: he uttered similar rhetoric regarding the meat industry.

I know from my own experience and involvement over the years that a lot of people and entities have endeavoured to get the message out about wool, they have tried to market a clean green traceable story behind it, they have emphasised the positive attributes of wool, but has any traction been made, given the price of wool currently you would probably say no.   Should more be done? Sure, but what do we do?   

I did a quick search on the internet:  wool versus synthetic carpet,  some key differences:  Price, synthetic carpets generally much cheaper: synthetic carpets generally much more fade resistance (solution dyed nylon carpets carry warranties for this) an issue if have large windows or doors where carpet is exposed to sun; wool better insulator, warmer in winter and cooler in summer and good for those with asthma; wool generally more resilient, but will wear more in heavy traffic areas compared to some synthetic carpets.  Wool is a natural sustainable renewable product.  There is a lot more on the internet for consumers to digest before determining what carpet to buy. 
 
However like most things today I would imagine the biggest obstacle for wool carpets is Price!  Clearly anything made of wool is a niche product that needs to be aimed at the wealthy consumer, a generic statement made by me!  However I really don’t know how we gain more traction in this market.

Citing Icebreaker as an example is pretty tiresome, given this is a fine wool clothing product produced by a private company that focuses on a very small niche market, in theory it should be easy to replicate, but I suspect the bigger the niche market you are trying to target the harder it is! Moreover clothing is a product that appeals to people’s vanity and in terms of the price to carpet a home, is a very small sum to pay and such I would presume it’s much easier to market an expensive sweatshirt to a person than a wool carpet.

Others waffle on about how we need to bring back a Wool board and a Meat board:  to do what?  If they were so fantastic the first time around why is the sheep industry in the present predicament it is today.  If these boards are the answer, could the advocates please state why they will make a difference, give specifics of how and what they will and can do, including the amount of funding that may be required to achieve what they are suggesting, not simply we need to bring back the Wool Board to market generically around the world.

I think many people forget that while we as New Zealanders consider ourselves big players in the market, we are not, we are just a drop in the ocean and as such to create the sort of brand recognition that the “Wool board would do” is so far beyond the resources we have its ludicrous.


I applaud those who publicly air their opinion, as arguably without it, nothing would ever change or improve.  However those who simply regurgitate what has been said for the last 20 years, without providing specifics or detail as to how we achieve these stock standard generic statements, I, for one, would rather not have to read or listen to any more of their dribble!!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Stop killing ram lambs: Utter Rubbish or Not?

In response to an article I wrote a month or so ago regarding the eating quality of our lamb,  it was suggested that if we stopped killing and processing ram lambs, then this would go a long way to sorting this issue.

The same person did acknowledge that the Meat companies have carried out taste tests to satisfy themselves to the contrary (but she “questions those results”).   I understand that a few years ago Alliance undertook significant research in this regard and found there was no difference.

Where do I stand on this?  As a pragmatic farmer applying a common sense approach view to this question, for me it simply comes  down to the age and maturity of the animal in question. 

My lambs are born from I September onwards.   I generally aim to kill my lambs at a live weight of 44 kgs or above; in the hope of averaging between a 19 and 20 kg carcass weight.   As I am all studs, I don’t kill lambs off mum; the majority of all lambs have to be weighed at weaning and again at least 6 weeks later to obtain meaningful genetic growth figures for selling rams.  The last of my works lambs are killed by early to Mid-April, of which the large majority of these are ewe lambs.

Do I think there is an issue with the taste of the ram lambs that I kill during this period?   The answer is quite simply NO!  The lambs are young and being killed at, for the want of a better term, what I would call an immature weight.      The combination of these two factors I would think ensures there is no difference in taste.  Take a ram lamb say born 1 September, which is killed in early April as it has only just reached 44kg live weight, which incidentally is firstly a bloody cull, and secondly inevitably a multiple and most importantly still immature, so will there be an issue as to taste:  I somewhat doubt it.  This assumes the lamb is in good condition, i.e. prime, for which the works should pay a premium (and do not) as that must affect the eating quality and taste of the lamb.

But if you take a ram lamb that is 50kg or more live weight over that same period, then the sex of this lamb may affect taste, as it’s obviously a very mature lamb.   I do sell a few through Temuka that are 50 kg or more, because being a stud breeder I can’t cull my lambs till early February (for the reason outlined above: growth figures).  But generally no lamb is going to reach such a live weight before being killed.

Similarly a skinny ram lamb (i.e. not prime, for whatever reason that achieves the target live weight of 44kg and is killed, there could be an issue as to taste but primarily because its skinny not because it’s a ram lamb, as its very unlikely that such a lamb has attained any form of maturity.
Accordingly the works present payment regime: that pays you even more abysmally for heavy lambs and that the lambs are still young i.e. killed by Mid-April ensures the sex of the lamb has very little if not no bearing at all on the taste.   As my circumstances are similar to how most lambs are killed in New Zealand, I believe this holds true for practically all lambs killed.

I actually would love to see technology that enables us to ensure that all lambs destined for the works, are born as ram lambs, for the simple reason they are ready to be killed weeks ahead of ewe lambs (this would be waste of time for me as a stud breeder, but be big benefit for a lot of commercial farmers).

The cynic in me does however wonder about those ram lambs killed through the winter season, which are considerably older and likely much more mature; as I can assure you I wouldn’t be eating them