Te Whangai Hill Country Romneys

trevorulyatt's blog

Spring Newsletter  2017

If you rolled four dice, one for each season, with the six sides each depicting a weather facet such as wet, dry, windy, calm, cold, hot,  you probably have a good chance of determining what the year will be like!!
 Many folk around here are saying this is just like the old times, very dry summer but good autumn (understatement!) and a real wet winter.  My recollection of 'The Kowhai floods' (September/October) might mean the wet hasnt finished with us yet!
  How could you value that February rain? Prior to the rain the lamb market was subdued and market outlook was nothing flash then surprise surprise it rains and suddenly 'the market' outlook is positive! I reckon easily $400 million! I'd say $1/kg on lamb and mutton from April for the rest of the season plus 10% more lambs from half the national flock. No wonder the government is running ahead of budget!

Niwa have backed off an earlier prediction of El Nino and my weather guru tells me the sea temperatures off Sth America are cool and of the climate maps he looks at there is only one in the past 17 years that looks like this year and that is 2012 which brought a good spring (2011) and a wet summer.
 Predictions for Sth Australia are for a wet summer as well so let's see!

Ram Effect:
Periodically the question is asked, how much can the ram influence the immediate scanning result?
Instinctively we assume that the ewe is responsible for ovulation rate and successful formation of embryos and at best the ram effect on scanning percentage might be limited to his libido or sperm quality, unless he had a major problem or Brucellosis.

I recently had an example where a farmer had been using well reputed and big but not performance recorded Romney rams from the same breeder for many years and was trying Te Whangai rams for the 1st time.
 He split the 2th flock and mated half to 2th rams of the old gene source and half to Te Whangai 2th rams... there was a 30% scanning difference!!
 I had provided him with some surplus ewe lambs in February, which were mated along with his own 'old gene stock' hgts, the difference in scanning was 40% (75 v 115)!

Our national recording provider through Beef +Lamb Genetics has been busy changing the way they are going to report the potential genetic value of a ram.
They have moved to a 'one size fits all' index where one new index called 'Maternal Worth'  ranks all maternal rams regardless of breed or mix of breeds! Really?

 I haven't seen any figures yet but I would urge a great deal of caution because there are highly productive traits such as resilience to internal parasites which do not feature in the calculations.
What has been neglected to be mentioned in the promotional material is that to make accurate comparisons between flocks there must be adequate 'linkages' or shared genetics being used, and that is not commonly the case.

How can you compare a fully fed animal that is drenched every 28 days to one which may have had limited feed and not drenched for 6 months, or ever?  Short answer is  you can only compare animals from different flocks if they have adequate numbers of commonly sired progeny in both flocks.

SIL are also publishing a list of the top 200 indexed rams in the country. Whoop de doo. There's a very old adage, select only on figures and you get high performing rubbish, select only on looks and you get good looking rubbish!  
Common sense says a balance is required and with our heavy emphasis on resilience (growth rate under serious parasite challenge) which is not part of the SIL standard index, we are not likely to feature in that index frenzy.

There is a perception the Te Whangai sheep are small, I accept that to a degree in terms of frame size, and that is a result of the evolution of selection under a limited feed regime, but what is more important size or weight?  I recently got two commercial ram hgts back from a neighbour, one weighed 79kgs!! and the other wasn't far behind (just killed at over $200!) but the recorded ram hgts at home would be lucky to be 48kgs. Certainly no lack of ability to grow if given the chance!

Who would have ever thought we might be faced with exactly the same possible scenario with meat as we have with wool!
Complacency and lack of vision, marketing and investment allowed synthetic fibres to create total dominance in the soft flooring market to the point that there are now two generations that  know nothing of wool or any of it's attributes and we must not let that happen to meat.
 There are a number of  massively funded companies working on synthetic meat, including one backed by none other than recently anointed and controversial Kiwi Citizen Peter Thiel !! (net worth 2.6 billion) so you can bet they aren't going away. Reality would suggest that with the worlds population growing by 2.3 people per second or 200,000 per day they will have to eat something!!

 It always amuses me how wool holds a certain irresistible grip on even the people who love to hate it. I see a farm consultancy comment recently bemoaning the fact that their model 850 ha farm net profit will be down by $60,000 this year because of the drop in wool price. The net profit now will  only be $55,000, in other words at last years prices the wool cheque more than doubles the bottom line! and these are the very same types of advisors that have been quick to write wool off!
  It looks like early predictions of continuing disastrous prices may improve, the ram hogget wool at 31.2microns just sold for $4.81 clean. Still awful but just like milk at $4, it's about 1/2 what is was at the peak
Lack of consumer demand driven by poor marketing globally has led to the situation where even seemingly intelligent farmers (and their wives) have been conned into believing the sales pitch that wool carpet is 'old technology'!  Our reliance on China is a major problem.  At best I don't believe the State controlled system there has a clue as to what stocks they have or have not and at worst they do know but simply by withdrawing from the market they know they can crash the price and they are masters at it.
 Exports to all other countries have remained steady and India has taken 25% more than usual, obviously exploiting the low prices but thankfully taking up the slack of China's 30% reduction. Presumably they will now have the stockpile?!
 There is much talk of new uses for wool and that's fine , it will all help, but there is massive opportunity in the traditional flooring products if we change the value chain model.
 With grower control of the NZ Yarn spinning mill in ChCh combined with a sound retail partnership in the US, CP Wool's venture there can now achieve net profit margins of $50 plus per kg of the raw wool input!  That is massive 'capture of value', simply way beyond even good marketing of wool however these developments need to expand greatly and will require commitment, investment and of course rewards.

 While we have not developed this programme as quickly as we thought we would we will have a number of lambs born this year with two different sire backgrounds but still from Te Whangai ewes so we have made a start and subject to testing and identification of superior animals we may have some ram lambs available this autumn.

 With the political landscape changing almost daily what is the outlook for agriculture if the global 'desire for change' sweeps a new mob into power?
  Land tax, water tax, capital gains tax, emissions tax, all on top of possibly increased income tax!! Just watch our national surplus disappear.  The only consolations might be a plunge in the dollar and perhaps better reasoning between our Lady boss in Feds and Jacindarella?
  What ever happens we need to focus on our own productivity, for example, as genetic gain is permanent and cumulative if you take 2% annual gain in carcase wgt over 10 years at $6/kg that's an extra $24/hd.

Last year saw some excellent lambing %'s up in the 150-160's but I sense with the survival rates being experienced at the moment there will be new record levels set this year! Lets hope the weather holds out for the later country and the hoggets.


Look forward to hearing from you soon.  Hang on to the scrim!

Regards  Hamish, Harry and Bay


 Spring newsletter 2016

Mowing lawns in August has to be a good sign although I am very aware that 'One Swallow doesn't make a summer!
As pastoral farmers we are so dependant on the weather and therefore it is no surprise that it is the opening line of  so many rural conversations and is the focus of so much analysis.
A basic principle of politics is to create fear then propose the solution - climate change being the most obvious example.
Clearly NIWA is a political body, (with an $80m budget) so what happens to the livestock market when the fear that is generated has no solution?... it crashes! Even the Moon Man predicted a dry autumn for the East Coast -  at no cost to the tax payer! but even he did not pick how localised the dry would be or that it would really  affect the autumn/winter rather than the summer. We make our decisions based on a mix of local knowledge, historical data and gut feeling with one eye on predictions but by basing all our decisions on predictions we can end up with our risk management becoming our biggest risk.

After the devastating rain last Sept when so many lambs were lost, we had a pretty good run up till January but the wheels fell off after that so it was back to the grain trailer, silage feeder, fodder crops and mining body condition!

We tupped the very light earlies on Spitfire rape, the fats on dry grass and anything that knew what grain was got barley and interestingly they all scanned much the same, meaning the rape must have worked well but the grain not so well.  We only made the decision to feed grain at a late stage and I now know they really need 3 weeks at a good rate, 300+grams, to tup well.  With luck we wont have to test the theory this year!!

Mining body condition is definitely not a recommended pre tup practise but ever the optimists we try and build some feed to flush on and that has to come at the expense of something! so we were pretty pleased with the recorded 2ths which scanned 160% at 49kg.  At 3.2% per kg liveweight that means a 65kg ewe would have to scan 212% to be as efficient.

The Te Whangai fertility is still achieving good results for clients.  A mob of approximately 500 surplus ewe lambs were sold to a large NI coastal property last year and run together with the resident, non Romney, flock but scanned separately. The Te Whangai 2ths scanned 30% higher!

Facial Eczema
 is on many peoples minds and has maimed or devastated many flocks even in areas where it has rarely or maybe never been seen before.
 Good spring growth created excess feed which converted to high levels of dead material in the base of the sward. As the season progressed and got drier sheep were forced to eat lower into this old feed and with heat and autumn moisture, bingo big problems.
 By looking at all the variables that determine the severity of an outbreak of FE we can see many areas where there are opportunities to safeguard our stock.
 Farmers who know they are at risk often do their own spore count monitoring and take action to avoid potential 'hot' areas.  Young stock appear to be much more vulnerable and would benefit from being higher up the farm at danger times.  Be sure to clean up pastures well before the autumn esp in high risk areas, and timely zinc drenching can also help although I understand there are a few issues with this as well.
Clearly there is a genetic opportunity to introduce a degree of FE tolerance, just as there is to internal parasite tolerance which has been our focus for 25 years. Just because you have a degree of worm tolerance in your sheep does not mean you completely stop drenching vulnerable stock nor would you ignore the mitigating measures you could take in the face of an FE challenge.

The ram team are a valuable investment and are often close to the farm base, for a number of reasons, but in being there they are often at high risk  It seems like a good idea to throw a Zinc bomb into them as insurance if you are in a bad area.  
  I personally don't share the view that the planet is in a warming phase and that diseases like FE are going to become more prevalent in fact you could google 'global cooling' and see there is strong evidence we are in the cooling phase of a 25-30 year cycle in which the last warm phase peaked in 1998 and started cooling from about 2005.

  That said, we are very conscious that we have clients in red hot FE areas who desperately do not want to  throw away the progress they have made with their Te Whangai genetics by switching to another genetic source solely to achieve some protection from FE.   
We feel a responsibility to incorporate FE tolerance into a subset of the flock, so we have begun to develop a programme which has started with the purchase of an FE gold sire, himself Sporidesmin tested at .6 which is the maximum. As it was late in the season before he was available he has been mated to ewe hgts.
 The programme will include searching our ewe database for relatives of two high FE sires we used a number of years ago as part of the Sustainable Farming Fund project on worm resilience.  Also maybe screening in some high performance ewes from a client's flock which has had several severe FE  challenging years recently and then with AI and embryo transfer programmes we can rapidly build up numbers of tolerant animals.

Lamb prices have slowly lifting again after the beating they took at the end of 2015 with the mass slaughter driven by NIWA's drought predictions. Of course the weakened Sterling value after the Brexit result has definitely not helped although despite NZ strengthening against the USD, selling lamb into that market is said to be highly profitable at present.
Finally some progress on the SFF deal, it would  be an understatement to say it will be interesting to see what effect this has on the industry.

Niche product sold as a commodity
 Just as with milk powder, logs, beef or bloody pork bellies wool's roller coaster continues which is hugely disappointing, although predictable as it is really only niche by volume,  yet it is largely still traded as a commodity.
 After the euphoric highs of last years hogget wool prices I warned we need to be careful what we wish for and it seems the Chinese buyers have once again pumped the price up and walked away leaving particularly the fine crossbred wool prices to fall back again.
 Interestingly the stronger micron carpet wools have not been as affected by the lack of Chinese orders, presumably because although most of the manufacturing is done in China the biggest market for carpet is still the US and demand there remains ok.

 We have just sold our ewe hogget wool and received $5.99 cln which is still actually well ahead of 2014 so perhaps we need to keep the current price level in perspective... but use it as further motivation to strive for greater innovation and collaboration in both our marketing strategies and internal industry activities!

To get even close to achieving the Govt's Business Growth Agenda of doubling real export value by 2025 we will have to be adding considerable value to a good portion of the wool clip through branding and further processing.  There is no point in looking enviously at the retail price of a carpet unless collectively we are prepared to invest and take some of the risk involved in the value chain that  creates that carpet.   

The value of our agricultural exports is about $37 billion, the value of those goods at retail is $200 billion! surely some of that is worth striving for.
I have encountered more than a bit of gorse in my travels around the country and I though I would share this spray recipe from a very thoughtful client who farms in a very bad gorse area at Pongaroa. This is half the water rate and way less chemical than traditionally used and is having great results, at about $115 per ha

Per ha - 200ltr water with 400grm of Metsulph and 300mls Organo Silicone penetrant.
             Add -  Fulvic acid 300grm
                     -  Urea Ammonium Nitrate 3 litres (can be sourced cheaply from "Dickie Direct Ltd" in HB)
Naturally spraying should be done when the fresh growth is occurring in spring, and a thought from another gorse murderer, applying one tonne of Ag Lime at the same time produced a massive clover response compared to an unlimed block. Maybe aiding the recovery from the Metsulph.

I'm sure you would all join me in offering well deserved congratulations to Bay for his receiving of the Laurie Dowling award for outstanding service to HB agriculture.

We continue to be heartened by the new inquiries for rams.  One comment that always amuses me is that Te Whangai has a reputation for having 'small sheep'.  The simple fact is that we are using the exact same SIL growth rate BV's as everyone else but it must be remembered that those BV's are recording weight not size and  as I have said before, the sheep which produce the highest growth figures when feed is always at a premium are deep meaty sheep, heavy but not big framed.

 Will hear from you soon, meantime lets hope we all get a spring!

Regards Hamish, Harry and Bay


Following tradition, a quick weather roundup always summarises the years  production.          2014 (June to June) has been rather erratic but relatively ok for the most part.  The big drought of the previous year has continued to cast it’s economic tentacles over this year of course because the low lambing was a direct result of it.


  Almost another year gone and nevermore than this year, has it been a case of on the one hand wanting time to fly but on the other, for it to drag.

 The spring and summer couldn’t go quick enough but the autumn- winter has really been one to cherish…give or take the odd flood or metre of snow!

 Niwa might have finally made a correct prediction, a milder than average winter, does that mean we now believe everything they say???