Friday, December 8, 2023

Wrig still leads Romney progress

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Genetics expert Dorian Garrick has challenged Romney breeders to imagine the future they want and work out what tools and technologies they need to get there.
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“We can get to new places with performance recording, evaluation, selection. They work even better today because we can collect a lot more with our electronic devices, we have much better statistical methods, we have genomic ways of checking parentage and so on but we have to be focused on sensible breeding goals.”

Garrick was one of a line-up of speakers talking to about 200 breeders and commercial farmers at a seminar to celebrate the Wairarapa Romney Improvement Group’s 50th anniversary. 

The group, set up in 1970, has a breeding base of 32,000 fully recorded females and supplies more than 5000 Romney rams and Romney-crosses a year via the Gleniti, Grassendale, Meldrum, Motu-nui, Te Whangai, Turanganui, Wai-iti and Wairere studs.

Paul Crick leases former Taratahi farm Glenside with partner Dayanne Almeida, who is also using her New Zealand experiences to drive improvements in her home Brazilian sheep industry. 

They run the hill country Central Progeny Test flock for Beef + Lamb Genetics and are trying to make their flock as productive as possible, focusing on what they can control and influence and measuring and monitoring to make more objective decisions.

Rabobank’s international proteins specialist Blake Holgate said reduced buying power will likely negatively impact higher-cost proteins in the uncertain covid-19 world but NZ is nimble enough to capitalise on the rise of online supply channels and, with food safety and health issues driving buying decisions, the country’s covid-free status will enhance its existing reputation.

WRIG chairman and third-generation member Zandy Wallace said the challenge for the group has never been greater. 

“Make sure we continue to look ahead and assess and make good decisions around potential for chasing new and novel traits, such as eating quality and methane efficiency,” he said. 

“WRIG contributes to or influences no less than 20% of the self-replacing portion of the NZ sheep industry. It’s important we take care not to underestimate the value of continuous, incremental improvement of the core values of profitability.”

Original members Bill Hume said the group started in the days when lambing percentages were low and wool value was high. 

Holmes Warren had started selecting for fertility when he returned to Turanganui in 1948 and became the go-to Romney breeder for encouragement, advice and genetics. 

Hume, Warren and the late John Daniell at Wairere hatched a plan to form a Wairarapa breeding group and an inauspicious inaugural meeting was held in Masterton in 1970. Invitations were then extended to Trevor Oliver, Ivan Stringfellow, John Wingate, John Daniell, Ian Campbell and John and Bill Hume. The only person outside Wairarapa was Bay de Lautour in Central Hawke’s Bay. Sandy and Tim Wallace joined the group in 1980, John Le Grove in 1983 and Roger Barton in 1992. George Williams took over John Hume’s flock in 2016 (after Marcus Edge). Some of the families now have the third generation in charge.

“The sheep industry has seen ewe numbers halve in the past 20 years but the amount of lamb produced has remained about the same,” Bill Hume said.

“The group has played a big part in this by supplying rams to the national flock and improving fertility and growth rate.

“I am sure it will continue to do so for the next 50 years in the hands of the next generation of breeders.”

As part of the celebration commercial farmer John McFadzean made a toast to the original group members, especially Holmes Warren, who he called the father of the modern Romney. 

“Words fail to express what the group members have done for us all – financially, as stockmen and in terms of integrity and knowledge. You have been great mentors to us all.”

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