Friday, July 8, 2022

A chance to learn

As a benchmarking exercise the New Zealand Ewe Hogget competition has certainly worked for Jean and Robert Forrester. Sandra Taylor reports.

Jean Forrester recalls setting their sights on the scanning and lambing percentages of fellow competitors in the New Zealand Ewe Hogget competition over many years.

With their hoggets scanning 155% last year (and lambing 133%), they can now say they have got there.

The couple fought off some stiff competition to win the national title this year and while delighted with their win, it has been the opportunity to benchmark and learn from fellow entrants over the years that has been the greatest reward for the North Canterbury couple.

Country-Wide visited the Forresters farm 228ha of flat to steeper down country at Omihi, an area better known for its vineyards than sheep production.

It is country that comes away early in spring and dries out just as quickly in December, so Jean and Robert aim to have all their lambs gone by Christmas. This allows them to focus of the following year’s production by growing out ewe lambs, two-tooths and maintaining the condition of the Wairere composite ewes.

Jean and Robert Forrester are a strong team and Robert credits Jean for having strong stock skills.

With such productive hoggets, the couple are acutely aware of the need to get condition back on them before they go to the ram as two-tooths and this is where the high-quality forages such as lucerne are so important.

This year the two-tooths went to the ram weighing 72kg. 

Robert jokes they are trying every new grass on the market and at any one time will have between one-quarter and one-third of the farm going through a pasture renewal programme.

Direct drilling makes this make this job quicker and easier and they will cultivate only where necessary.

They are trying out AberMagic high sugar grass and Prospect, a new PGG Wrightson grass, all of which are mixed with chicory and plantain.

To prevent clostridial diseases often associated with high-quality feed, the ewe lambs are given Covexin 10 in January, mid-February and again before they lamb in August. They are also given all the abortion-related vaccines, although this failed to prevent a small outbreak occurring in the hoggets last year.

The hoggets and multiple-bearing two-tooths and mixed-age ewes are given a capsule before lambing and that is the only drench the adult ewes get all year.

The ewes are shorn as part of an animal health programme and certainly not as a money-making venture.

There is no fixed policy with shearing but roughly it’s around every eight months, but whenever it fits in with the farm programme.

Robert says there is little value in the composite wool, but the ewes have enough Romney to allow them to move to a more Romney type ewe should the value of wool ever improve.

Along with the sheep the Forresters grow out around R1 and R2 cattle.

The couple own a hill block in the Waipara gorge where they run 106 Angus breeding cows. After weaning in April or May, they bring the progeny back to Omihi where they grow out and finish the steers and mate the heifers.

At the end of May they were carrying 130 R1 cattle and 100 R2 cattle including 26 in-calf heifers.

The first of the finished R2 steers left the property early in June and they aim to have them all gone by October to an average weight of 250kg CW. 

Talking to Robert and Jean, it is apparent they are a strong partnership and Robert is quick to acknowledge Jean’s strong stock skills.

Through a combination of genetics, feeding and stockmanship they have a high-producing ewe flock; the next challenge is managing triplet lambs.

As to the future, they would like to decrease the size of the ewes slightly while retaining productivity. 

  • See Country-Wide Magazine for more Ewe hogget finalists and top operators.
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