Waidale Rams

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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Headwaters should release the findings on intramuscular fat in lambs and everything else for that matter!!!

 I have just read another puff piece about Headwaters sheep. It was about Tim Burdon from Mt Burke Station at Central Otago farming Headwaters sheep. Perhaps these sheep are every bit as good as Mr Burdon claims, but I would like people to consider the following.

The research undertaken by Headwaters and the Alliance Group, under the umbrella of a Primary Growth Partnership project between the government and industry, claims that Headwaters lambs' intramuscular fat averaged above three per cent compared to other breeds at 1%”. It also claims “omega 3 levels are typically three times those of average lambs”.

As I understand it, none of this research has been peer-reviewed by an independent entity. Myself and others have been refused access to the research and its findings. Credibility would be enhanced by releasing all the research to interested parties. It would be nice to know what lambs and what breeds Headwaters is comparing its lambs with what breeds, what sample size, as the cynic in me wonders if they are comparing their lambs with the worst possible sample.

If their research was released, then it might counter what I have been told more than once, that intramuscular fat has no bearing on taste for the majority of lambs killed. They are simply not old enough to lay down enough intramuscular fat to have an effect on taste. It does have a bearing on older animals killed to be eaten, and it's important in cattle, but they are killed at an older age. If this research was released, then it could be peer-reviewed to see if intramuscular fat was a red herring or was something to be concerned about.

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We are told all Headwaters lambs are finished on chicory (and clover I believe) for a month before being killed. In the article I read, it states this "boosts levels of omega 3 and intramuscular fat." Again the cynic in me questions how much of this is a direct consequence of being finished on these crops and nothing to do with genetics. Does the data they have collated distinguish between those finished on these crops and those not? Can they genuinely apportion any gain to genetics as opposed to merely lambs being finished as they should be?

As I have said many times, the meat companies should pay a premium for lambs finished correctly, then you would get better tasting lambs. You don't need years of research to work that one out.

In the article in question it states "the PGP calculated premiums of 30 per cent to 50 per cent in prices for Omega Lamb but Tate [the project manager] said actual returns exceeded that. He declined to give details.

I believe Alliance pays them a 10 cents per kilogramme premium for their lambs, which is primarily based on supply of numbers, not fantastic tasting lamb. But again Alliance won't disclose what it's paying. At 10c/kg, this equates to currently perhaps a one per cent premium. I'm not sure where the rest comes from. I, like many shareholders, aren't impressed with Alliance's policy in this regard, and I know that they are losing lambs because of this and the price they are paying.

Remember these sheep are merely composites. Composites have been around for decades now. Many farmers started off with a good purebred flock, did well for five or six years, by putting composites over them. But how many farmers do you know 10 years down the track that are still using them? Not many, as problems often compound and production generally starts to decline the further you get into it.

Finally, Mr Burdon's claim about foraging is excellent, but I am pretty sure the proliferation of dairying forcing sheep onto the less productive country has had the same effect on all breeds, in particular, romneys. I think a good flock of romneys would be equally as good as these composites in this regard.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Common sense goes a long way in farming and most things for that matter!

I have just read two articles, one about some brothers in southland, being part of the Red Meat Profit Partnership programme and another about Hogget mating.   I generally concur with what is being said or written, with a few qualifications. 

However I guess what does alarm me when I  read these such articles is that practically all this advice is not rocket science, it’s something that I take for granted in my normal farming practice.  Now I don’t consider myself to be the greatest farmer in the world, but in everything I do, I try to do it to the best of my ability and farming is no exception.

Perhaps I was lucky to have a father who was a good stockmen: not just teaching me what a good sheep is in terms of conformation and structure etc., but just in management or perhaps it’s because I am not a moron, or perhaps it’s because I do make an effort to read all relevant literature that may be of value to what I do, which means it is common sense.
Every time Beef and Lamb put out some new guide for farming that I haven’t read, I always read it.  Over many  years to date there has never been anything in these guides that I go “hell I better start doing that” (the closest would be body condition scoring with my hand, as opposed to eye, which is definitely more accurate), why is this, because quite simply again it’s all what I consider  common sense.

The brothers in the article were advocating putting only 60% of their ewes to maternal rams for replacements.  I am not sure you could put an exact percentage on it, but the best way to improve your flock has always been and still is not to breed from the rubbish.  You always put your worst ewes to a terminal sire.  I guess my concern in recent years is how many people these days genuinely have the ability to determine which are the good ewes and which are the bad ones, many do this purely on how fat they are these days, which is certainly not the same, I am not just talking farmers, I would be even more dubious of a consultant suggesting he could do this for you. 
   
My caveat as to percentage is unless your ewes are of the quality of my stud romney flock, you need to be culling something like 50% of your ewe lambs (I still cull in excess of 50%) when selecting replacements to ensure they are good enough to breed from.   Some scientist suggested in the last year or two that farmers  should only cull 10 or 20% of ewe lambs out when selecting  replacements and therefore could mate most ewes to a terminal, which is utter crap as most if not all farmers flocks aren’t simply good enough to come anywhere near this.

I am not a big fan of farm consultants generally, as cynically I think it must be difficult for a consultant to not advocate change of some sort given they are charging you 100 plus dollars an hour for their advice (most of which I consider common sense and a lot of which you get for free by reading or from agronomists who supply product, in the case of cropping etc.).   I am pretty sure that most of us don’t enjoy paying a large bill for advice saying keep doing what you are doing.    I am being a little bit facetious and accept there probably is a place for consultants, but I also believe there are  lot used who don’t need to be.


In my view the most important time on a sheep farm is 6 weeks before mating through to the first 2 weeks of mating.   You need to ensure body condition score of ewes is 3 or more, that they are on rising plain and that the rams are working well and in the right numbers.    This is the time when you endeavour to maximise conception, after mating is over, the rest of the year we are simply trying to minimise loss in terms of condition, abortion, reabsorption, deaths etc. hence the reason mating is the most important as it sets the benchmark to start from in terms of profit for you to minimise subsequent losses over the rest of the year.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

A few things that bugged me this week!!!

I was visiting some sheep studs in the North Island to buy a good stud ram. We travelled 1500 kilometres in three days, so it was a bit of mission

When your business is selling rams, the adage "the customer is always right" comes into play. So you can imagine how I felt when we had an appointment with a breeder at 11am, only to find he wasn't there. Nor were there any rams in the yards. We tracked him down through text messages, just to be told to stay where we were and he would come. We waited an hour, and no one showed.

Unless someone died in his family, not only was this incredibly bloody rude but it epitomised the attitude of a lot of business people these days. I try to accommodate the client no matter how inconvenient it might be, but this attitude is prevalent in all forms of business these days. It is like they are doing you the big favour, when in fact it is the other way around.

Next was a need to call the fertiliser co-operative Ballance. I rang their 0800 number and waited 12 minutes before someone answered the phone. My first question was how many people were on the team - it was appalling to have to wait so long. This was something that is not unique to Ballance -  Ravensdown and other companies these days seem to accept equally long delays for their customers.. But go back two years, and you could almost always get through immediately (unless it was the IRD).

I know companies want to cut costs, but given that my experience is not unique these days, they need to consider where the right balance is. Too many waiting periods of 10 to 12 minutes before anyone answers certainly makes me look at other options.

The last thing I want to hear while waiting is some sales pitch for a product the company I am trying to get hold of is selling. For me, it has the opposite effect. I am less likely to want to buy the product after being forced to listen to a sales pitch. I don't think I am the only one who feels like this and,if I am part of the majority then perhaps companies should revisit their tactics.


Finally, I read something about the Omega Lamb Project receiving an innovation award for blah blah. How is it that when I, as a shareholder, ask Alliance for a copy of its data and research, I am stone-walled. I haven't heard of the Headwaters group volunteering its information for all and sundry to see. I would like to see the same chefs try some of my best southdown-cross lamb and then tell me theirs is better than what I am producing, for which Alliance is not paying me a premium. If, as a shareholder and taxpayer, I can't review the research and findings, the cynic in me wonders on what information they decided to make such an award.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Beef and Lambs advertising re comparing indexes is Farcical and Misleading.

Beef and Lamb New Zealand has made some major overhauls to the Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) genetic engine in recent years and reworked some breeding values and indexes. Many of these I agree with, some I don't and some I think are just a waste of time.
In general, I support most of what it is trying to achieve. As I have reiterated many times if you have a good understanding of the issues and problems with the SIL engine and figures, then you are in a position to utilise those breeding values and indexes that are accurate to assist you in breeding a better sheep.

However, SIL breeding values and genomic breeding values are not the panaceas that will allow you to breed the ultimate sheep. In my case I have often culled my top ranking lambs on SIL, as while their figures may be high, they are simply not fit to breed from.
This year my number one ranked ram hogget is a very good sheep, but in my experience, it's hard to find a top ranking ram that is also a good sheep and believe me, I have done some looking. The point is that to breed a good ram you have to be a good stockman and ensure you maintain the fundamentals so that five, 10 and 20 years down the track your productivity continues to improve. If you don't, you will go backward and fast.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of breeders who either place far too much emphasis on figures alone or quite simply don't have the stockmanship ability to ensure that the rams they are putting up for sale are indeed sound.

I know that Beef +Lamb NZ do acknowledge that stockmanship plays a significant role in breeding sheep. To this end, it is assisting in developing a stockmanship video that will be a training tool for many generations to come. It will ensure that those breeding sheep will not only understand indexes and breeding values but also breed animals that are sound and fundamentally correct to make sure that the productivity graph continues to rise, or at least not go backwards.

Given the above, I was stunned when Beef + Lamb recently started marketing to breeders via email and to the general sheep farming community in agriculture magazines saying "every ram sold by a SIL breeder now has a single index figure-one number that's comparable across all rams of all breeds." The higher the number, the better the ram.

Honestly, this is absolute b....... and just because a ram has a higher figure doesn't mean it's a better sheep, all it means is that one index is greater than the other. Everything else being equal between the two, you would, of course, take the higher index.

Secondly, for an index to be reliably compared between different breeders and different breeds, you need an excellent linkage between breeders and groups all around the country on all the traits contained in the index. The better the linkage the more reliable the comparison. You may, in fact, have good linkage regarding growth rates, but poor on survivability, for example.

In any event, the reality is that a lot of rams sold come from flocks (around 50 percent, possibly slightly more) are not sufficiently linked to everyone else to enable these indexes to be compared with rams from another flock.  Its meaningless and misleading to suggest otherwise.  You don’t know if the higher index reflects good genetics or simply good linkages because you need to be well linked to get high indexes and breeding values.  You can of course compare rams within a flock but not against others.


I wish Beef + Lamb would first limit itself to providing a service to breeders instead of being a marketing entity which cynically is done to justify its existence. Secondly, I hope it ensures that what it does say comes with the necessary caveats to be correct because, with the money they have, the wrong message could have a very detrimental effect on the sheep industry.

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.