Milking the future of dairy sheep

The annual Sheep Milk NZ Conference held in Palmerston North recently attracted more than 200 participants, 40 more than the number who attended the inaugural event last year.

It was a diverse crowed with people from within and outside New Zealand. The theme was Building momentum and convenors were Linda Samuelsson from AgResearch and Dr Craig Prichard from Massey University.

Prichard said that last year had been an enormous year for NZ sheep milk with several new operators and 3500 more milking stock introduced.

International and national joint ventures were formed and new exports expanded the sales of NZ sheep milk products into China and Taiwan.

The conference had 35 speakers across various sessions covering everything from consumer products, AgResearch updates, manufacturing and regulations, to genetics and breeding.

A summer oasis

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Liz and Don Polson with ewes ready for shearing.

Don and Liz Polson have struck green on their Mangamahu Valley farm near Wanganui after spending $5000/ha on irrigation. Russell Priest reports. Photos by Graeme Brown.

A desire to improve lamb growth rates and drought-proof their finishing prompted the Polsons to install an irrigation system along with high-performance forages on their 130ha alluvial river flats.

“I’ve had enough of droughts,” Don says. “We’ve gone from a desert to an oasis under irrigation. We’ve never had so much summer feed.”

The Polsons’ main farm, Waipuna, is a 1600ha mainly medium to steep hill-country block lying between Mangamahu Valley and State Highway 4 (the Parapara Rd) north-east of Wanganui.

The farm includes 350ha of river flats and terraces bounded by the Mangawhero River. The area is prone to dry summers.

Lucerne smokes grass

This year’s extremely dry conditions across much of New Zealand reinforced the value of forage systems that perform in dry environments. Sandra Taylor checks out the winners and losers.

A comparison of different forages and forage mixes over nine years showed lucerne to be the outstanding performer.

Dryland grazing trials on Lincoln University’s Ashley Dene farm compared the forages as part ofthe Pastoral 21 programme led by Professor Derrick Moot. Lucerne outyielded ryegrass in eight of the nine years.

Annual drymatter (DM) production across the trial plots ranged from 5.7 tonnes to 18.5t DM/ha, highlighting the huge variability in productive potential among different pasture species.

Moot said ryegrass and clover pastures died-out at a rate of 10% a year from the time they were sown, with weeds encroaching on lost pasture.

Right forage in the right place

Ngahere Agriculture is a four-way equity partnership business running a 615ha effective lamb breeding and finishing farm in eastern Wairarapa.

Specialist finishing pastures are a key part of its operation, as delegates on a New Zealand Grassland Association conference field trip in November were told.

“We’ve done 210ha of forage development,” Paul Oliver, one of the four equity partners in the business explained.

“We’ve tried to find the best class of forage and use it in the right place.”

Plantain and clover is used on rolling country and pure legume, usually red clover, on flats close to the woolshed where stock can be closely monitored.

“It’s the Ferrari of the business.”

The front line of defence

Veterinarian Gerard Poff, from Waikari in north Canterbury, has joined New Zealand’s first line of defence should there be an outbreak or suspected outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD).

He was part of the second group of New Zealanders to travel to Nepal for nine days, five of which were spent training onfarm and in lectures. 

Because Nepal has a major problem with FMD it is an ideal place for other countries free of the disease to learn more about it and attempt to find solutions to the problem.

The group consisted of a mix of people ranging from private practice vets to government vets and others in the agricultural industry.

Seizing the day

Isn’t it great when a mineral drench solves everything? When all else fails, give a mineral drench.

Throughout New Zealand a shot of vitamin B12 – which I put into the “mineral supplement” category – is the standard solution to low growth rates, looking poorly, low lamb survival, rough coat and scaley ears (of sheep).

So the solution being suggested in the media for the fungal challenges that our livestock get in summer is a mineral drench. The particular fungal challenge that has been getting attention lately is zearalenone.

This fungal toxin is an oestrogen look-alike that interferes with ovulation and has been blamed for poor scanning results for years.

Both excess dry ewes and low twinning have been laid at the feet of zearalenone. A mineral drench before mating may well help each of those if the sheep are selenium deficient and the drench contains selenium.

Pushing production boundaries

Increasing sheep productivity by 15% over three years is no mean feat but 10 farmers in the Sheep Profit Partnership programme have done just that.

Run by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and facilitated by farm consultant Wayne Allan, the partnership programme took 10 high-performing farms in Canterbury and Marlborough and challenged them to lift productivity by 5% year-on-year for three years with a one-year lead-in.

Weaning weights key

The importance of feeding hoggets well during pregnancy and lactation is highlighted in recent research by Massey University professor of sheep husbandry, Paul Kenyon.

For the research, conducted over a number of years, hoggets were bred and lambed in one year and their two-tooth performance measured the next. The results showed that the heavier the ewe hogget at weaning, through either better feeding in lactation or being heavier before lambing, the better her two-tooth performance. She was also less likely to be prematurely culled from the flock.

In keeping with tradition

Lambing hoggets is a finely-tuned tradition for the McDiarmid family on their Oturehua farm and Karl and Ro McDiarmid are the third generation to continue the custom in central Otago’s Ida Valley. Lynda Gray reports.

Dawning of a new era

In a recent column I mentioned I’d spoken at an international conference that centred on three days of presentations on sheep production.

There was a big focus on technology at the conference including artificial insemination, embryo transfer, gene markers, molecular biology and behaviour modifiers – of sheep that is. In this context SNP technology, parentage identification, biomarkers, vaccines such as Androvax and novel feeds can be added to the high-tech list for sheep.