Consistently achieving lambing percentages (survival to sale) of at or above 160%, half the lamb crop is normally off to the works by the end of January, with 80% by the end of February. This includes lambs from their hoggets. Average carcaseweight for the past three seasons is 18.6kg.
The conformation of the Hunters’ ewe flock provides a good indication of how they perform. The meaty Textra Romney ewes look outstanding and have been a work in progress to the point that Chris now feels confident they present a good even line.
Textra rams are sourced from Peter Black’s Blackdale Stud and the Romneys from Andrew Tripp’s Nithdale Genetics.
The Hunters were drawn to the Textra genetics (Texel, Coopworth, East Friesian) but are mindful of the East Friesian traits because though they provide excellent milk and fertility, they have found these traits need to be kept in check otherwise udder problems become an issue.
With scanning percentages hovering round 200%, about 15% of the ewe flock carry triplets. Management of triplet-bearing ewes is kept simple. Although they have tried supplementing with nuts, Chris questions the economics of it: “At the end of the day we don’t see the money back in the bank account.”
Triplets are separated out at scanning and kept on grass until set-stocking just before lambing when they go back with the twin-bearing ewes.
Lighter ewes are drenched pre-lamb with an oral drench. There are few bearing problems.
Hogget lambing is an important part of the farm operation and dates back to 1997 when Chris’ father Boyd ventured into it cautiously. For the past six years the Hunters have kept only in-lamb hoggets as replacements.
Some changes to the system were made two years ago as the Hunters felt the hoggets had reached a plateau with a lambing average of between 70-80%.
“We had almost become a bit slack and the results were starting to slip – we were just bumping along.”
After a hogget lambing seminar hosted by the local vet clinic Clutha Vets, Chris says he walked away with some new ideas on what needed to be done. Previously they had avoided vaccinating hoggets against toxoplasmosis and campylobacter as dry hoggets were killed, but the seminar changed his mind and hoggets have been vaccinated for the past two years.
The other big change was how single-bearing hoggets are managed.
Rather than being on restricted rations over spring, the hoggets now have ad-lib access to feed from set-stocking onwards. It has been the right decision.
An improvement of over 20% was achieved last season and this season 1074 ewe hoggets went to the ram for four weeks with 997 scanning in-lamb. Just under half carried twins and the target 100% lambing was achieved for the first time this season.
One of the attributes of top performers like Chris and Laura Hunter is thay have a business mind-set.
Chris considers in-lamb hoggets to be the most profitable stock unit.
The Hunters use Dorper rams over their hoggets. Cheviots have been used in the past but the Dorper traits of small birth size, meaty and fast-growing, fit with their system well. Rams are sourced locally from Kerri Lucas at Tuapeka Mouth.
Ewe hoggets go to the ram at an average mating weight of 50kg and start lambing on September 20. The hoggets receive a capsule drench pre-lamb and for many this will be the last drench they receive. As hoggets are already well-grown at mating, weaning is left until early January when 20% of the lambs weaned are straight to the works. Normally hogget lambs (at weaning) are weighed off at 34kg and above, and kill out at 17kg on the hook. This year they were taken off a little heavier at 35kg and killed out at 17.5 kg CW, returning $83.
Wool is important to the Hunters but as it is only 10.6% of income, it isn’t given the same priority as lamb growth. Ewes are shorn annually after the second cycle at mating which Chris describes as “almost early winter shearing”.
“Shearing at this time also means it is much easier for monitoring ewe weight over winter.”
Ewe micron tends to average 37-38 with hogget wool at 34-35. Chris says he wouldn’t like to see the hogget wool any finer because it would indicate the hoggets have not been fed well enough. Only ewes and ewe lamb replacements are shorn and last year the average weight of wool to sheep stock unit, which includes ewe lambs, was 5.7kg.