Southdown Sheep Society, NZ

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Breed looks to bright future

Posted by Christina On March - 31 - 2013

Published Rural News 23 October 2012

FAST GROWING, easily delivered Southdown lambs

FAST GROWING, easily delivered Southdown lambs

FAST GROWING, easily delivered lambs with great survivability and conformation: that’s what you can expect when you use a Southdown ram, says breed society president Blair Robertson.

“We’re focussed on maintaining that [early] mean kill date for our clients and continuing to keep the meat content up.”

Eye muscle area scores have been steadily increasing over recent years and fat content, once a point to watch with the breed, has come down to the point where breeders are now careful they’re not taking it too low with their selections, he adds.

“If we take it too low we might start to lose some of that early maturity.”

Breeders are also taking care not to take them too big, too leggy, as can happen if selection for growth isn’t handled carefully. They’re really grunty, nuggetty, lambs,” he stresses.

That’s already showing in lambs born this spring to 1200 ewes he’s conducting a trial with to compare performance of the breed with five other terminal sire breeds.

The ewes were all in-lamb when he bought them, so other than the breed they’d been mated to, sire selection was out of his hands. Growth rates, and kill dates and weights will be monitored, with carcase yield data too if possible.

“We’ll either do all the twins, or all the singles.”

Another initiative the society is considering is a spring/early summer retail or restaurant promotion based on the breed’s earliness and quality of meat. To that end last year a restaurant survey found all but one of 23 diners were 100% satisfied with the meat in their meal, and the exception was due to excess gravy.

“It was so successful we’re going to do it again this season. What we’re thinking is rather than promoting Southdown lamb as a year-round product it should have a season, a bit like the oyster season, so people look forward to getting those early lambs.”

Robertson notes Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Golden Lamb Awards, aka The Glammies, held at Wanaka A&P Show in March, while a laudable initiative for rewarding farmers producing high yielding, high quality meat, isn’t the ideal timing for the Southdown.

“Our focus is early maturity. A lot of the good Southdown lambs are long dead by then. We’re taking the first draft at 10-11 weeks off their mums. We had a line of Romney x Southdown lambs out of hoggets that did 16.8kg in the first draft last year. They’re the ideal ram in my opinion.”

The meat off the “tight-wool” lambs is particularly fine, he notes. “You could cut it with the back of your fork it’s so tender. It’s the only thing we kill for the house.”

While schedules typically reward those who get lambs away early with the best prices, if producers want to grow the lambs out to heavier weights they can, he adds. “I’ve got ram clients who are killing Southdowns at 22kg. You can grow them out if you want to. They’re not like the old Southdowns that would go overfat.”

The move to yield payments should also suit the breed, he believes.

The number of breeders has been creeping up in recent years, with just over 80 in the Southdown Breed Society now. Most rams are sold before the traditional sale season starts with a few held back for the main North (ie Feilding Ram Fair, December) and South Island auctions.

“There are three breeders holding on-farm sales too now.”

Focussed on growth rate

Posted by Christina On March - 2 - 2013
Bruce Westgarth

Bruce Westgarth with a Southdown cross
lamb at tailing late September.

SOUTH CANTERBURY sheep and beef farmers the Westgarths run 4000 Coopdale ewes across two farms, one at 500m above sea-level on The Brothers range inland of Timaru, the other on the town’s outskirts.

“The two properties work so well together,” says Bruce, who runs the inland unit with wife Rosa. “We take all the older ewes down to Timaru where we put them to terminal sires: Southdown, Poll Dorset and Suffolk. We’ve had Southdowns for years. They produce good lambs, and early maturing.”

Nearly half the ewes on the 200ha down-country farm, which is run by their son Hamish and his wife Amanda are put to Southdowns, plus 300-400 at the 368ha Brothers property.

Replacements come from Coopdale hoggets, 1250 of which were run with the ram last autumn, with 1000 scanned inlamb.

While he’s well placed to do so, Westgarth’s wary of comparing performance of the different terminal sires he uses. “There’s good in all breeds.”

Most have made marked improvements in recent years and the Southdown is no exception. The short, stumpy lambs prone to running to fat if taken too heavy are long gone. In their place are rams which throw a longer, leaner lamb that’s still solidly built and fast finishing.

“Some people still have the wrong impression of them,” notes Westgarth. “They still think they’re wee fat things, though views are starting to change now.”

The growth of his Southdown x Coopdale lambs is rapid. Last year they started lambing August 22 and in the last week of November drafted 230, averaging 19.8kg.

“They always weigh heavier than they look.”

Admittedly, there were other breeds among them, but the Southdown at least held its share, if not more. Over the whole season, and all breeds,  average kill weight was 20.3kg cwt.

“We drafted lambs every week from the end of November through to May.”

Getting more lambs away early, plus an end of season contract for the last 2000, helped them average $136/head “without counting the wool off  them.”

As a rule they’re shorn at 38kg and go on the truck at 44kg, all to Silver Fern Farms.

Picks breeder more than ram

WESTGARTH’S APPROACH to ram selection is simple: find good breeders, stick with them and reward them.

“I don’t mind paying a good price for good rams because if the breeder can’t make money, they can’t improve the genetics can they?”

His three suppliers are all from South Canterbury. The Southdowns come from Chris Medlicott’s Tasvic Downs and Clifton Downs studs;  the Poll Dorsets from Steve McCall’s Castlerock stud, and the Suffolks and Coopdales from Peter Darling’s Coryston Stud.


Westgarth points out better prices for the lambs isn’t the only benefit to early finishing: their mothers make better money as cull ewes.

“We try to get them on the truck the next day.”

Space freed up on the down-country farm also allows more lambs and other stock to come down from The Brothers. With no irrigation, both properties can get dry. Again, fast growing, early finishing lambs are an advantage, in that more are gone before feed gets tight.

Distant producers but common goals

Posted by Christina On March - 2 - 2013

Published Rural News 23 October 2012

Southdown rams ready for sale this summer.

Southdown rams ready for sale this summer.

TALK TO commercial lamb producers using Southdown rams and you’ll find common threads running through all their comments, even if they are from opposite ends of the country.

Take Wayne Bloxham, at Whitiwhiti Station, north of Gisborne: by the time you read this, he will probably have sent his first draft of lambs to the works. “We aim for mid to late October, off their mums at 16kg carcase weight, sometimes a bit heavier.”

Southdown terminal sires are a key part of that early finishing strategy.

“We find they’re quite early maturing and quick to fatten. Normally we get a good pick off their mums and another big one when we wean them.”
At least half will be gone by the December draft and by the time it gets dry, as it can on the 1350ha medium steep coastal property, “there are bugger-all left.”

He lambs in July, the Southdowns running with 1200 of a 3000-head Coopworth flock.

“Their survival rate’s normally pretty good, though this lambing wasn’t exceptional because they dropped into puddles, it was so wet.”

He’s been using Southdowns for about nine years, and while he’s careful not to let lambs get too big, “they’re not like the old Southdown where the lambs went straight to fat,” he notes. “Now we try not to let them go over 23kg, though we have slipped up in the past and it’s not uncommon for some to hang up at 24-25kg.”

This year he’s lambed hoggets for the first time, using Southdowns as the sire with 80% of 600 mated getting in lamb. “There have been no lambing issues with them. They’ve been spitting them out like a piece of cake,” he said midway through the hoggets’ drop.

Down in Southland, Bill and Beth Gordon, Garston, are also keen to get lambs away early, albeit from much later lambing. “It can get quite dry here in the summer and if it gets dry, having quick maturing lambs means there’s more space for the Romneys,” notes Bill.

That means better grown replacements and better condition in the 2200-ewe Romney flock, feeding through to the following year’s lambing result. Even if it doesn’t get dry, having the crossbred lambs away sooner means more feed to do something else with, such as fatten cattle, he adds.

“We wean [lambs] the week before Christmas and take a draft then, up to 300 or 350 depending on the season.”

That’s from lambing starting the third week of September. He’s also using the Southdown across his hoggets.

“They seem to lamb reasonably easily.”

And while they don’t have the same coat as the purebred Romney lambs, there’s no problem with their vigour and survival as lambs, he adds.

Unlike Bloxham, Gordon’s stuck with the Southdown as his terminal sire of choice through thick and thin – “since the mid 1970s” – but makes similar comments to Bloxham about how they’ve changed over the years.

“They’ve got more stretch in them now whereas they used to be a bit short and dumpy and went to fat. They’re leaner now.”

And in recent years the Gordon’s have had the competition results to prove it: three times they’ve had lambs in the finals of the Golden Lamb Awards at Wanaka A&P Show.

“It’s just for interest really. Competitions are more interesting if you take part, rather than watching from the sidelines.”

Deer get marching orders
PATRICK O’SULLIVAN | Thursday, February 2, 2012 9:01

Stephen Baker of Te Mara Southdown

Stephen Baker of Te Mara Southdown

CHANGE OF TACK: Stephen Baker will miss farming deer as he expands his Southdown sheep stud. Stephen Baker of Omakere is selling his herd of red deer to concentrate on his Te Mara Southdown Stud as demand rises for a breed that has evolved to suit Hawke’s Bay conditions.

“I can’t seem to make enough of them,” he said.

“Southdown has changed a bit to how it used to be. Everyone thought you’d get a lot of fats out of a Southdown but you don’t – they grade well and you get more.

“For those pre-Christmas early lambs the old Southdown is great. Straight off mum they yield better – I’ve got guys killing 3-month-old milk lambs off mum at 18-19kg [yield].

“They seem to like the dry country and Hawke’s Bay is renown to be a bit dry.”

He said rams were reported to last longer and the fast growth made for less work.

“Most of them are gone before its time to shear.”

Fleeces are considered medium wool type with a fibre diameter of 23.5 to 29.0 microns.

“They’re not a wool sheep they’re a fat lamb sheep.”

He will sell his 200 hinds over the next over two years.

“Most are sold privately through an agent but there is an annual deer sale in Taihape.”

He said he will be sad to see the deer go.

“I do enjoy them – they’re different to work than a lot of stock. Some days you can go out and it only takes 10 minutes to move them, other days they give the run-around.

“You either love them or you hate them. They’re harder on your dogs, they’ll chase them, especially at the first muster after fawning because they are protecting their baby – they box the dogs with their front feet.”

The danger of working alone with the large flighty deer in he yards is another reason to quit.

“Sheep don’t jump on you.”

“The odd one will get up and clout you with their front feet in the shed but I just get rid of them. I’m in the deer shed by myself so I can’t afford to be hit.

“But they are an interesting animal. If you come out at night and see the fawns playing on these faces – man can they scoot. They are a beautiful animal to watch.

His deer paddocks have long grass for fawning, which finished in January.

“If your fawns haven’t got any cover to hide in like this long grass, then they’ll go and poke around and look to hop through the fences – they don’t need much of a hole.”

He shoots wild venison that are attracted to his herd.

“You do get the odd wild one but it’s not really stalking, they are just standing on the fence. Hunting is when you go into the bush.”

Wild deer have to be kept away from his herd to protect its TB-free status. The herd is tested every three years, requiring their necks to be shaved before a test injection from a vet.

He said venison was a far superior meat when cooked right and it was a shame it had not been marketed better in New Zealand.

Daughter Tiffany said the venison cooked by her dad was always the first to be eaten at their barbecues.

Most venison is exported.

Despite his enjoyment of the deer, his 453ha farm has to be treated as a business if it is to continue to succeed.

“I’ll make twice as much money on the Southdown as I do on the deer,” he said.

Rural News Southdown Special – 2011

Posted by Christina On October - 30 - 2011

By clicking on the link below you can read the Southdown Special that was published in the Rural News, October 2011.