Wednesday, July 6, 2022

They like it rough

Shiloh Santa Gertrudis Stud, Kotemaori, Northern Hawkes Bay. The Santa Gertrudis breed is not as prominent as it was in the early 1990s when exotic breeds were making their mark across both the sheep and beef sectors. However, a northern Hawke’s Bay farmer is determinedly keeping the breed on his map locally and this summer is one where they have proven to more than earn their keep. Vance and Denise Percy farm 330ha at Kotemaori on pumice country that can turn dry in summer and this year has certainly been no exception. However, for over 30 years Vance has built up his Santa Gertrudis herd to a total of 40 breeding cows in his stud and 100 commercial cows after admiring the breed’s ability to do well in tough conditions while he worked farms in Australia. “Weight for age they do very well in hot, dry conditions. The heat does not worry them and they like rough pasture.”

He notes they may have been more successful in Australia for that reason but his own animals have made their mark supplying breeders and commercial operators with bulls as far afield as Tahiti and New Caledonia, appreciating the hot conditions and thriving.

Back home this summer has been one to almost imitate the Australian conditions Vance worked in, with the property recording only 35mm of rain for February.

But it is also favourable features including minimal calving problems and  their easy care nature that also make the breed appeal to a wider audience, particularly those tired of calving problems experienced with some more traditional breeds.

“Come calving time it is very much a case of simply setting them out and leaving them. They rarely give any problems.”

The dry conditions experienced over the summer-autumn period can bring elevated worm infestation but fluke can also be an issue for Vance to deal with in his bulls and cow herd.

In the past Vance had used an injectable treatment for fluke control but the recently launched Cydectin Plus Fluke Pour-On with "two in one" pour-on approach for controlling fluke appealed for its convenience and for the reputation Cydectin had already established for worm control.

Typically, fluke problems arise for Vance with stock drinking from streams and his awareness of it stems from reading United States research on the effect fluke can have on animal fertility rates. The impact can also be expressed in lower growth rates and rejected liver at kill time.

Zoetis animal health veterinary advisor Dr Victoria Chapman says farmers are well aware of the impact worm infestations can have, particularly over late the summer and autumn-early winter periods but fluke levels are also often elevated at that time, having a “double whammy” effect on cattle health.

Extreme dry periods in Northland and the North Island’s east coast have seen increased fluke levels adding to the challenge of worm infestations as pasture levels are lowered.

In a dry period, stock tend to graze closer to wetter, boggy parts of the farm where fluke populations are highest, ingesting the infective stages. It is in the wetter areas where the fluke’s intermediate host, a small freshwater snail, lives.

“Those swampy areas can remain a snail and fluke reservoir in coming dry seasons,” Chapman says.

While only in his first season using the treatment, Vance is impressed with its ease of use and the excellent condition stock have maintained despite a challenging season. He intends to do the calves at 12 months and will review the adult cattle depending on how conditions unfold going into autumn.

Meantime, he is at least enjoying peace of mind over stock health, as the region hunkered down over the late dry summer. After taking over from his father he, like most in the region, have come to farm more conservatively and focus harder on the individual productivity of their sheep and cattle.

“After I farmed in Australia I thought I would never see it as dry again as I did there. Seems I was wrong!”

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