Monday, April 22, 2024

Building a better two-tooth ewe

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A passion for improving sheep performance and a gap in the market led to a year-round hogget grazing system on a Wairarapa farm. Rebecca Harper reports. Sam and Sara Orsborn’s focus is returning an excellent, well-grown-out two-tooth ewe to the breeder at a weight of at least 60kg. Sam spent 15 years working as a sheep and beef consultant for BakerAg in Wairarapa, where sheep are 75% of farmer’s stock policy. “I could see that the limitation for some of those people’s performance was growing out ewe lambs.” Traditionally, hogget grazing is done over spring rather than year-round and the Orsborns are one of few niche hogget grazing operations in the area operating 12 months of the year. Their east Taratahi farm in Puketahi is 330 hectares (effective) of dead-flat land, perfect for growing the 4000 ewe lambs that come on in December or January each year.
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“Everyone knows you can grow out ewe lambs faster on better feed, which is typically on flat land. We combine that with lambing, with the aim of an excellent two-tooth returned to the breeder,” Sam says.

They have about 40ha in rape crops for summer and winter feed, about 160ha of plantain and 60ha of annual grasses.

The Orsborns have a diverse set of businesses, with Sam pulling back from consulting in recent years to focus on his family’s stock feed business, Sharpes Stock Feeds, and the farm.

The couple also developed MyTrucking, an online transport management programme that eliminates paperwork for trucking firms, which has mushroomed since its launch in 2014.

Puketahi is Sam’s family farm and Sam and Sara are taking over the reins of the family business from Sam’s parents, Nicky and Alastair Orsborn.

Sam’s father Alastair still plays a very active role in the businesses, and Sam and Alastair work very well together.

Eighteen months ago they bought the neighbouring property, The Grange, with the aim of expanding their hogget grazing operation.

With so much going on, Sam needed to consolidate. Enter farm manager Brandon Giddens, who started in January this year.

“We were after a young, innovative guy who was keen to try new things and continue the performance the previous manager Rob Dick had achieved,” Sam says.

Brandon, 24, fit the bill and takes care of day-to-day tasks on the farm as well as feed budgeting through Farmax and records for FarmIQ.

Sam and Brandon do policy setting and budgeting together. They meet weekly to go through everything.

Sam, Olivia, 4, and Sara Orsborn at their farm, Puketahi. The couple's two other children were at school on the day Country-Wide visited.

The Orsborns believe their system is sustainable long term from an animal health, income and personnel perspective.

They involve veterinarian consultant Trevor Cook, who comes two to three times a year, to formulate an animal health plan. He will also help validate their feed trial next year.

There is room for a small number of cattle in their policy, where they can fit around the sheep.

“We don’t really need cattle but we would, if there’s an opportunity. They’re also a pasture management tool.”

Running solely sheep raises the question of worm burden but Sam has done a full reduction test and the results were positive.

“It doesn’t seem to be a problem. We haven’t got lambs coming on and off all the time and Matt (Wyeth) has done a reduction test too, so we know his drench status.”

They have developed a plan to manage this, in conjunction with Cook.

Long term, Sam believes farming ewe hoggets better has the potential to greatly improve the performance of this country’s ewe flock nationally.

“We need to treat the ewe hogget as the new two-tooth. We need to get better at farming ewe hoggets and a system like this is ideally set up for it.

“Lambing ewe hoggets increases the lifetime performance of that ewe, they produce more lambs over their lifetime,” he says.

Improved sheep performance benefits

PROS FOR BREEDERS

  • Simplifies stock policy hugely – takes out a major priority stock class
  • Allows breeder to increase breeding ewe numbers
  • Breeder gets a better two-tooth back than what they could have grown out themselves – means better lifetime performance from that animal
  • Extra ewes being run on the property cover the cost of the grazing.

PROS FOR THE BREEDER

  • Risk management – not solely exposed to either lambing percentage or liveweight gain income (plus get some wool income) or trading margins
  • Simple policy – one class of stock, all the best feed goes to them
  • Stacks up well financially
  • Provides consistent income, not relying on markets
  • Market for the ewe lambs born at Puketahi, bought by farmers
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