Three years since buying a new farm, the McGurk family are still fine-tuning their farming policies.
This hasn’t held back the performance of their Romney-East Friesian breeding ewe flock. The ewe hoggets made such an impression on this year’s New Zealand Ewe Hogget competition judges that the McGurks claimed the 2013 crossbred title.
John and Linda have twice placed second in their breed category, crossbred in 2002 and composites in 2003, while farming their previous property at Ohuka. When entries opened in March this year, their ewe hoggets were looking good and weighing 43kg, so they decided to have another crack at the competition.
All ewes, including these hoggets, are on daily rotations until set-stocking for lambing.
“Body weight is probably the biggest factor to getting a pregnant hogget,” John said.
Hoggets are set-stocked just before lambing in mid-September, on 1200-1300kg DM/ha.
John said the real focus now would be to lift growth rates in the lambs born to ewe hoggets and on killing one-third straight off mum, a goal they should be able to achieve within the next two years.
Twin-bearing hoggets are set-stocked for lambing. Their lambs are usually smaller so they tend to have few lambing problems. Single-bearing hoggets require more work to reduce lambing difficulties.
The McGurks restrict single hoggets’ intake by giving them a couple of hours each day on 1300-1400kg DM/ha and shedding off on to saved pasture any that have lambed.
“This helps control birth weights to some extent and also generates more grass for when they have lambed.”
Hoggets are vaccinated for campylobacter and toxoplasmosis.
Lambing ewe hoggets resulted in a ewe flock of better mothers, better milkers and fewer dry two-tooths.
“You get rid of the shy breeders early and if you’re going to have problems with abortion it’s better you do it early on in life,” John said.
This year’s ewe hoggets went to the ram between 40kg and 51kg. Their average weight of 44.7kg was 0.8kg lighter than last year, due to drought, but John said the Wairoa region had been fortunate not to suffer as much as other parts of the country.
He thought that probably contributed to their success in the ewe hogget competition.