Saturday, December 2, 2023

Sheep farming ‘a piece of cake’

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Farmers Weekly dips into the archives for another taste of ag New Zealand’s favourite scribe.
The year is 1996, and Steve Wyn-Harris and a farming mate compare notes on sheep and beef and diary farming.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

In honour of Steve Wyn-Harris retiring his weekly From the Ridge column after decades of wielding the pen, Farmers Weekly dips into the archives for another taste of ag New Zealand’s favourite scribe. This was his first, published in NZ Farmer.

First published in April 1996

This week we had two friends to stay with us on their annual visit. Alan and Viv brought food, several children and news of the dairy industry.

Alan, for a short time, was my farm consultant. He took the wise advice himself that he never offered me at the time and went out and bought a herd of cows.

Over the years we have compared our relative returns and fortunes. When finding me in siege mode he pointed out that it was only two or three years ago that my return on capital was better than his.

I inquired of him if he and his fellow dairy farmers felt great compassion for us sheep and beef men in our misery. “Not really” was the reply.

According to him, their thoughts were more along the line of how did the meat and wool farmers get themselves into such a position. I responded that I could not personally accept any blame, being but a very minor log at the bottom of the pile, rising exchange rates and fickle Chinese wool buyers were all beyond my control.

Then this disciple of a single-desk regime gave a knowing smile and consumed yet another can of my beer.

Of course, we talked at great length about the huge differences between our two industries and much of what he had to say fell on fertile soil.

However, what buoyed me more than anything was that this smart operator from a top-performing industry has been unable to farm a handful of sheep.

He had bought six ewes and a ram for house mutton and to eat the grass grown in the orchard.

Come lambing, two of the ewes were dry as they turned out to be wethers and the remaining four produced only singles. Subsequently the entire lamb crop, and the ram, died of pulpy kidney.

One ewe succumbed to facial eczema and the remainder to flystrike.

“Piece of cake this sheep farming,” was his verdict. “Buy a bunch of sheep, farm them until they are all dead and then buy some more.”

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