Waidale Romneys are one of four sheep studs run on the Farm. We presently run around 1050 ewes comprising of approximately:
520 to 550 stud Romney ewes
90 stud Lincolns ewes
130 stud Southdown ewes
130 stud South Suffolk ewes
another approx 150 ewes (majority romney) , which are mated to terminal sire normally
I feel the best way for someone to understand exactly what we do is to actually set out what we do and why. So here goes:
1. We only have stud ewes, so all the ewes are of course singularly mated, with all rams being put out around the 6th of April now.
We have been mating our ewe lambs since 2004. We have not done this in the past as realistically it is probably not economic for us to do so, given that we are generally wean in the vicinity of 160% , note this is a weaning percentage not scanning or dropped percentage.
I only mate our Romney and South Suffolk ewe lambs now, (no longer do I mate the southdowns and never have I mated the lincolns as they are slow maturing, mating them as ewe lambs would be an absolute disaster). And when I say mate, I only put the ram out for 18 days, as I want my ewe hoggets to of finished lambing before the last of my old ewes. Those people who wafftle on how only retain ewe hoggets that get in lamb, you should ask them how long they leave their rams out!!! If I put the ram out with the ewe hoggets I would expect something in the high 90s percentile in lamb. As it is we end up with around 60% of romneys in lamb
I put out a South Suffolk ram or ram lamb normally with the South Suffolks and record their progeny. I did put southdown ram lambs with the romneys, however last coupler years I have used romney 2ths, which do not tag, and once the mating is finished, they are earmarked to become teasers for the next year. I put the rams out with the ewe lambs at the beginning of the second round of the main ewes, both lots are put out for basically one round, which is probably half a round too short, particularly for the Romneys, if we want most of them in lamb. However I don't want to lamb forever, so one round with the hoggets is long enough.
Personally I would love to see a trial on the production of a ewe mated as a hogget versus the production of a ewe mated as a 2th for the first time, over their lifetimes, as I would not be surprised if the ewe mated as a 2th for the first time produces considerably more over her lifetime. Massey have undertaken a study, but it is meaningless as it has a fundamental flawe in the way it determines its control mob, so its findings are a waste of time. Please call me if you want to explain why its a waste of time.
However a lot of our clients are doing it, so we are also are concentrating on hogget lambing. I note meat and wool claim hogget lambing gains as one their significant returns on the levy we pay, which is a joke, considering hogget mating was being done 30 years ago and stopped as it was uneconomic and for a lot of people it is still uneconomic. I for one feed my hoggets that lamb better than anything else on the place to ensure that they are ready to go back to the ram the next mating, and I also wean the hogget lambs at the same time as the rest of the ewes.
2. The stud ewes are single mated for 17 - 25 days (a round to a round and a half). After this, all the ewes are then mobbed up and terminal sire put out for a further 17 days ( a maximum of 2 and half rounds in total).
3. When the ewes are mobbed up at mating time into one mob (including the Two tooths) they are fed baleage and strip grazed through the winter.
We did sow 5-6ha of Triticala (doubletake) with a bit of Tama underneath, this used to be an amazing crop, but in recent years after being grazed its struggled to grow back, which makes it an expensive crop thats not worth growing, to the point now I dont grow it. I believe its a lot like cross breeding, the first cross great, but as you get further down the track, its not as good. I believe when they crossed ryecorn and wheat to get triticale, it was great, but over time, its lost its vigour, my thoughts only. Now I normally put in 6ha of Moata or some other annual rye grass, and have been blown away how much feed I got off it, it appears to be growing back enough to lamb on and then we will see how much baleage I get off it? Anyhow I certainly would not recommend to anyone that they grow triticala anymore.
I fed 1050 ewes on 6ha of moata immediately upon mobbing them up at tupping time for about 6 to 7 weeks (I say 6 or 7 as when its wet I feed the ewes on Kale on the hill, to avoid stuffing the paddock) before moving then strip graze permanent pastures. I grow 8 to 9m hectares of Kale, now, direct drilled on the hill, which put ewes on when wet and later part of winter, when trying to shut up lambing paddocks. Last 3 years I have actually had my ewe hoggets off farm grazing for 2 months.
4. Our ram hoggets (around 200 or so) are break fed from the 1st of June to the start of lambing on Winter feed, usual some annual grass combined with some sort of rape. The ewe hoggets, the last 3 years have been off farm grazing on lucerne for 2 months each winter. Note none of our hoggets are grain fed,
5. We aim to shear all the ewes around mid to late June. The scientific literature shows that shearing at this time assists with lamb survival, because of the size of the foetus and the fact the ewe has less wool. They do also grow a bit more wool, not enough to cover the extra cost of shearing. However we do it primarily for ease of management, However because we do twice year shear, we are conscious of the staple length of our wool. We got around $5.00 greasy for ewe wool (2015), and when they cut 6 to 7kgs a year, its a cheque worth worrying about again. I have yet to sell this years mid winter shear, so not sure what I will get, it won't be $5, but hopefully a drop in the exchange rate may come and still be a significant cheque!!!
6. In late june we triplet scan. As I have stated we normally wean around 160% with romneys in recent years, which is our real focus, we have fluctuated with scanning figures from 165% to 185% across all breeds, and yet irrespective of the scan we WEAN 150% or better across all breeds.. As a lot of farmers are now starting to realise scanning 200% is not very profitable, if you are losing 30 to 50% or even more of that scan in lamb deaths or a lot of farmers with a stack of multiples end up having to sell all their lambs as stores as they cant feed the mothers or the lambs well enough. There are some farmers with composites and other crosses who scan in excess of 200%, but only wean around 120, which is a helluva lot of dead lambs. One of the great strengths of a romney compared to other breeds is the survivability of the lambs, their mothering ability, you only have to talk to Dr Jon Hickford of Lincoln University, who has been managing the Romney Meat yeild trial to get independent confirmaton of this.
About a month before lambing the Twin bearing ewes are separated out and strip grazed separately. Triplet bearing ewes are pulled out at scanning and grazed separately. I am somtimes a bit lazy on this, and may only separate them 3 weeks out to avoid having to shift another break.
In the last month prior to lambing we put a full bloom free flowing mineral mix made by Essential Nutrition. Its always seems horrendous how much they eat in the first week, but it slows down. As we havent drenched our ewes now for probably around 10 years now, I do ensure they do have regular access to minerals.
7. Our Romney and Lincoln ram hoggets are shorn around the beginning of August by a great shearer, I will give you a clue who that may be, yes its ME!!!!. The meat breeds are shorn around the beginning of september now, because we have our on farm helmsman sale in the third week of November. As this time is also lambing I often get someone else if I can to shear them. I still shear those top southdowns for christchurch in early October. Our ewe hoggets I now normally try to shear around the same time as the ram hoggets now (perhaps a little bit later), with a view to having our replacement 2ths fitting in with our twice a year shearing and because a lot of them are in lamb. All romney and lincoln hogget fleeces are weighed. I know shearing them then is probably not the best for hogget lambing, but I put up with that as opposed to shearing all year around.
8. Ewes are given a five in one with selenium about two weeks before lambing. We used to bolus the ewes at the same time(last time about 10 years ago), I was then drenching perhaps once a year, depending on the season, around weaning time, as that would be when they were at the lowest, but now I don't drench them at all. Quite clearly we need parasite management programmes given the drench resistance problems that is appearing around the country. I practice refugia on the farm and all my ewes normally follow lambs in the summer to clean paddocks out.
9. Lambing starts around 1 September. We have traditionally lambed in scanning mobs of triplets, twins and singles, the twins and triplets set stocked, singles behind a break most of the time and they are shepherded morning and night. We do this, not because of lambing problems (as I would lucky to lamb around 10 ewes on average) but to ensure that our pedigrees are as accurate as possible (I don’t care what anyone says, those who tag at tailing cannot and will not have the same accuracy in terms of pedigree as we do) It is that accuracy that provides us (that is you and I) with reliability as to the genetic potential of the rams we breed and sell. SIL breeding values are heavily dependent on accurate pedigrees, the more inaccurate they are , the more meaningless the breeding values are.
As soon as DNA testing gets to a point where it is very accurate (as I understand it presently is around 80, I did think 90%, but apparently 80 is more realistic) and of course economically affordable, we will continue to shepherd twice a day to ensure our genetics are as reliable as they can be. We would rather not shepherd because I firmly believe I would get a better weaning percentage by leaving them alone.
10. Up until 2012 our ewes lambed in their mobs, but now they are set stocked (except singles) at round 14 or 15 to the hectare. Our lambing, thanks to many years using teasers for several weeks before tupping, culling late lambs and late cycling ewes etc is thankfully very quick (around 85%of our ewes lamb in the first two weeks or so of lambing, which means that I am all over the place for a coupler weeks because of the tagging, but after that it is a relative breeze).
11. At tailing time, we put a ring on and cut off the tail, spray on something to hopefully stymie fly and thats it. I no longer B12 our lambs at weaning, if I am going to do it, I do it at weaning, I decided to do this after a vet gave a presentation stating that B12 at tailing is generally a waste of time, if they need it, it is more likely to be at weaning time. I normally drench my lambs about 3 weeks before weaning, but it largely depends on how I perceive they are doing, a coupler times I haven't drenched them before weaning. The last few years I have put out lamb nuggets, which is a free flowing mineral mix made by Essential Nutrition, from around two weeks of age onwards, the ewes eat a bit at the beginning but quickly leave it alone, I go through probably about 250 kg through to weaning, so I guess the lambs need it if they are eating, thats my philsophy on it.
12. Lambs are weaned early december and weighed shortly thereafter to obtain weaning weights. I now have a Racewell sheep handler, so I weigh all lambs at weaning now. Almost all of our lambs are kept through for a second weighing, which we now undertake around the first week in February, at least 6 weeks after the first to ensure that the milking ability of the mother is removed and to ensure we are identifying the stock with the superior early growth rates. At this point we cull the lambs retaining principally those ewe lambs that we will require as 2ths, we will retain 10 - 15% more ram lambs then we intend to offer for sale in the next season. We eye muscle scan our ram lambs, (that we intend to winter), as soon as we can after the second weighing, but to date it has been as late as the third week in March. I believe the scanning is of assistance as an in flock comparison for clients, but not across flocks, as I believe differing growth patterns, feeding patterns, scanning operators, timing of scan etc quite simply make any across flock comparisons (i.e. breeder vs breeder) meaningless. There are now CT scans of live sheep, and yeild measurement at meat work works which we maybe able to utilise to progress the genetic gains in terms of saleable meat yeild. However most who use CT scans use it as a marketing gimmick in my opinion, because unless you are CT scanning good sample size of each sires progeny, you are getting no genetic information out of the scan, you are simply getting confirmation of a good phenotype.
13. We try to get all our ewes shorn in December and if we are lucky the lambs as well, but often the lambs are shorn in January. After weaning the ewes, we used to mob them up and make them work very hard for around a month. We did this to provide us with a double check on the flock, to see if there are ewes that don’t have the necessary constitution, if they don’t handle it, they are culled. However now that we don't drench, we find that the ewes are put to the biggest test constitution wise from the beginning of lambing through to weaning and through this period I note poor doers with the pocket and again cull those at weaning who are lacking in constitution. We place a lot of emphasis on the constitution of the ewes, as that is the only way we can ensure that our rams will do well in all varying terrains and climatic conditions.
Throughout the year any ewe that is finding it hard is recorded as such so that she will be culled at the appropriate time. I expect our ewes to milk and raise good lambs to good weights and be in reasonable order themselves at weaning time. If not they are culled. I expect this irrespective of their size, I say this because it is easy to simply make a claim that smaller ewes are more efficient, but sheep are like people, some bigger ones eat less than smaller ones and live on buggerall, they can be more efficient than a little bugger. I cull a reasonable percentage at scanning time, those that are struggling then I put a black tag in their ear and pull them out and put them with the triplet mob. This is important as without those black tags, some of those ewes by weaning might look like they have done well, this way they cant sneak through the system and be retained they get culled irrespective of how they look at weaning time.
14. Teasers go out 34 days before tupping (ie 2 rounds) , ewes generally get a pre tup oral mineral dose, that at least contains iodine, (given its importance to conception) about a fortnight before the rams go out, we give this dose to them again about 2 weeks before lambing, again primarily because of the iodine.. The 2ths are vaccinated against toxo, campo and salmonella, which is a pain, but as we are intensive, we have been affected by a bit of a abortion. Again after a vet presentation in 2012 I conducted my own trial by giving flexidine to my 2ths, as apparently to improve survivability (which iodine levels in lamb are essential if its to be high) iodine needs to coursing through the ewes blood stream from around 90 days into pregnancy onwards if its to make any difference to the lambs survival rates ( in otherwords apparently an oral dose to a ewe 2 weeks before lambing has no affect on the foetus and a foetus cannot source iodine from the ewes thyroid glan, it has to be in the bloodstream) I found that in my case there was no significant difference between my 2ths and old ewes in terms of survivability, so my conclusing is that they were gettign enought Iodine without an expensive flexidine shot.
The above is basically what we do, it is somewhat intensive, but then we are specialist stud operation and only have 300 acres, if I had 10000 acres I too may do things differently. Our focus is on breeding rams that the market wants, which means that I don’t let death be the culler, I do it before that occurs. I am not trying to do it by using marketing gimmicks, if you want to know something about what we do or what I think, just ask me, you will get a straight up answer, that I can guarantee!!!!
If there is something that it is unclear or not explained above, then please do not hesitate to email me or give me a call.