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A&P show a way to remember ancestors – Neville Moorhead

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On October - 28 - 2023
Southdown sheep breeder Neville Moorhead, 82, has gone through the ranks from being a sheep exhibitor, steward, convener, president, life member and patron at the Ellesmere A&P Show.

Southdown sheep breeder Neville Moorhead, 82, has gone through the ranks from being a sheep exhibitor, steward, convener, president, life member and patron at the Ellesmere A&P Show. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW

A Southbridge farmer whose great, great uncle competed at the Ellesmere A&P Association’s first show in 1871 is keeping the family legacy alive, writes Tim Cronshaw.

Neville Moorhead stretches easily over a fence before running a practiced eye over a small mob of Southdown rams to make his final cut.

The powerfully-framed stud sires cluster together before jostling to a corner of the front paddock at Holly Farm in Canterbury’s Southbridge.

It’s the day before the Ellesmere A&P Show and the 82-year-old, who turns over another year in December, shows no sign of nerves.

That’s to be expected from a veteran sheep exhibitor, who was in a pram for his first show and hasn’t missed one since.

The show’s honorary life member and patron can trace his family’s connection to the first event in 1871.

Staged in a borrowed paddock, a Moorhead was among the exhibitors.

“The first show ever held was in Southbridge township and one of the relatives, a great, great uncle, something like that, exhibited a pair of Clydesdales and was successful in winning with them. That’s where it came from and I suppose where I got a bit determined. You try to keep things going for as long as you can. It hasn’t been unbroken all the same.”

The 150-year link is a remarkable effort by one family.

His grandfather, Hugh Galpin, exhibited sheep with his uncle, Jack Galpin, as far as Timaru, travelling with their stock entries, mainly pigs. Larger pigs in crates were stacked from the bottom with lighter pigs in smaller crates on top and they would leave at about 2am for a day at the show.

Another grandfather, James Moorhead, achieved 50 years as steward in Ellesmere’s Jersey section.

His father, W.E. “Mac” Moorhead was president in 1960 and a patron and his brother, Murray, a class steward in the sheep section for 50 years.

Mr Moorhead said his family were keen stock people and it was only natural they wanted to exhibit animals.

“My mother lived up here and the family never had a car, but she used to exhibit sewing and cooking.

“She would ride the push bike down [eight kilometres] to the show in the morning with the basket in the front full of the cooking and that sort of thing.

“So there’s been that connection with the show for a long time. My family through the Galpins, Hurfords and the Moorheads have obviously been keen all the way through and keen on the stock breeding side so I guess that’s how it’s evolved.”

A competitive streak also explains the long run year-in and year-out.

Mr Moorhead is well past the 50-year mark. In his first year as the class steward in the Ryeland — an old English sheep breed — section he was probably 14 or 15-years-old and has been involved ever since. He was convener of the sheep committee a year after the show’s centenary in 1970 and carried this on for many years until becoming president for the 1988 show on a day of howling winds.

Neville Moorhead, left, with the champion Corriedale ewe and father Mac Moorhead with the champion Corriedale ram at the 1987 Ellesmere A&P Show.

Neville Moorhead, left, with the champion Corriedale ewe and father Mac Moorhead with the champion Corriedale ram at the 1987 Ellesmere A&P Show. PHOTO: ELLESMERE A&P ASSOCIATION ARCHIVES

Four daughters exhibited pet lambs in their younger years before moving on from farming.

Today he still organises the stock judging for Young Farmers club members and his association with this organisation goes back to 1957.

The mixed-cropping farmer spent a lifetime growing processed peas, wheat, barley and white clover for seed on rich Paparoa silt loam soils in the district.

Southdowns and Corriedales played a large role in the mix. For many years they put Southdown rams to the Corriedale ewes for prime lambs.

The Southdown stud was established in 1935 by his father, and the Corriedales in 1957. The first Southdowns came from the nearby Oakleigh farm owned by Canterbury Seed Company when the flock was dispersed in 1945 and others from the Andrew family.

Mr Moorhead can remember helping drive the new Corriedale arrivals home from the now defunct Southbridge railway station. The Hawarden ewes had been transported by rail and got a chance to stretch their legs in the short journey to the family farm. The railway’s long gone, but the sheep are still there.

He broke away from his father at a young age to farm on his own in 1963, as a 22-year-old. Just over 160ha were leased for five years.

“I was pretty fortunate to have that opportunity to farm that. It was just down the road from the family farm and I tried to keep the stud work going down there, but it was a bit distant really.

“It was solely commercial and I had mixed cropping there again and I had 1000 ewes and a couple hundred hoggets. They were very good sheep too — Romney Merinos — and another indication of changing times was that prime lambs for the works one year made three pounds.”

That was good money and, once inflation is accounted for, more than he’s getting now.

After the four years elapsed, he bought a small block next to his father’s farm and has remained there since.

Part of the land across the road was his grandfather’s.

As he’s aged and the sheep “have got faster”, he’s leased some of the 114ha property to a neighbour across the road and more land to a farmer growing organic beans and potatoes.

Apart from the help of Frances Donald during lambing over the past nine years, he still runs the farm himself.

That’s left him with his stud sheep on a smaller working base with the cropping left to others.

“I’d rather be with the sheep to be quite honest. It’s just the love of animals I guess and breeding. It’s probably because I’ve had a big background since I was that big,” he said, reaching to the floor.

“My Galpin grandfather farmed Lymington, next door to Jo’s farm, on the Rakaia side of Holly Farm. They had several breeds of stud sheep and pigs. I was up at his place every weekend so I had a bit of background up there and then on the other side of the Hurford family they had Jersey cattle and pigs again so I had no choice, but I still had to enjoy it to carry on. I still enjoy trying to breed a slightly better one than last year.”

The Jo he’s referring to is Jo Jermyn Benny, author of the updated Ellesmere A&P Show history called Beyond the Show Gates.

Mr Moorhead’s story is one of many in the publication — just a bit longer than most — and the pair share the same bond for the show and have farming ties.

Southdown and Corriedale sheep breeder Neville Moorhead at Holly Farm in Canterbury’s Southbridge with Jo Jermyn Benny, author of an updated history of the Ellesmere A&P Show called Beyond the Show Gates.

Southdown and Corriedale sheep breeder Neville Moorhead at Holly Farm in Canterbury’s Southbridge with Jo Jermyn Benny, author of an updated history of the Ellesmere A&P Show called Beyond the Show Gates. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW

The book updates two earlier editions of the show’s history to bring it up to speed.

Ms Jermyn Benny grew up in Marlborough on a sheep and cattle farm on the south side of Awatere Valley. Her husband, Andrew Benny, also has Marlborough connections, his mother growing up in the historic Langley Dale homestead, in Northbank, Wairau Valley, but he was raised in Canterbury.

They farm a mixed cropping and fine wool flock just up the road from Holly Farm, with the Benny family having farmed in the Southbridge district since the 1860s. In fact, the Benny family built the homestead on Holly Farm where Mr Moorhead lives now.

Ms Jermyn Benny visited the Ellesmere show while she was at Lincoln University, before marrying and moving to the district.

Their show link is also strong with Mr Benny on the A&P show committee since 2004 and was president over the challenging Covid-19 lockdown era.

Because of that he’s one of just three presidents to hold more than a one-year term. He was due to lead the show for its 150th anniversary in 2020 until it was postponed for the following year with attendance restricted to exhibitors to the disappointment of the community.

It was the first time the show was cancelled since 1942 during World War Two.

Ms Jermyn Benny has enjoyed researching the show’s history while updating events of the past 25 years. With the assistance of local historian Mike Noonan more stories and photographs were added to the accounts of earlier editions.

Records were lost to a 1906 fire which made it difficult to find early details, but there was no shortage of information more recently from monthly meetings and annual reports, she said.

Somewhat surprisingly, two conversation points have consistently raised their head.

“I’ve seen the early minutes and if you look right through from the 1900s to now the two key topics that keep coming up are traffic and toilets. Literally toilets are mentioned at almost at every meeting and the progression of facilities.

“Neville and I had a great day driving around at the showgrounds when we first started the project. He’s got a phenomenal memory for where buildings had been moved on sleds and the ring reconfigured and a lot of history that few people would have any idea about.”

Thousands of people turn up for the show, claimed to be the largest one-day A&P show in the South Island with the Mackenzie show also somewhere in this mix.

Mr Moorhead said the show had survived and grown because of a strong farming community and the rise of trade sites selling products over the years.

“There isn’t as many sheep in the district as there once was and the dairy has really taken off, but not at the expense of the stud breeding at the show. Some years ago there were many Jersey, Friesian and shorthorn studs in the district and they did exhibit at the show, whereas today there are very few of them.

“So, things have changed immensely and when you take where I am through to the Rakaia bridge thousands of sheep have gone out of that area to cattle and that’s one of the big changes I’ve seen.

“The cattle have dropped away at the show and pigs have dropped away. There are still a few sheep studs of various breeds in Ellesmere, but at their peak, goodness gracious, there would be one at nearly every road. That’s going back sometime, but shows you how numbers have dropped away.”

For all that, sheep entries have held up during show day, he said.

Ellesmere also receives about 1000 horse entries to keep the stock side strong.

Canterbury Southdown and Corriedale breeder Neville Moorhead was a six-year-old sitting on the ring pipe at the top of the showgrounds during the Ellesmere A&P Show’s grand parade in 1947.

Canterbury Southdown and Corriedale breeder Neville Moorhead was a six-year-old sitting on the ring pipe at the top of the showgrounds during the Ellesmere A&P Show’s grand parade in 1947. PHOTO: ELLESMERE A&P ASSOCIATION ARCHIVE

Mr Moorhead said long-established names of farming families remaining in the district had also created show loyalty.


Thumbing through a long list of presidents dating back to Reverend William Bluett in 1870, many of the same surnames crop up, as the next generation lines up for service.

The community-minded Moorheads have a long association with the local Anglican church with Mr Moorhead ringing the Sunday bell since he was 13-year-old.

Another tie that goes way back is his connection with the New Zealand Young Farmers Club and he was made a life member in 2014.

“With those three groups I sort of believe in joining and belonging to something and trying to attend it and do it well rather than belong to five or six organisations and send apologies to half of them. That’s just my attitude.”

He had 35 to 40 Lincoln University students at his farm recently, going through the fundamentals of sheep breeding and showing them the value of carcass conformation and other traits.

Some of them might go on to show sheep, while others would bank this knowledge when they bought their own stock, he said.

Over the course of decades of exhibiting sheep at Ellesmere he couldn’t count how many ribbons — many of them red — he’s won. Some of them are on the sideboard in the hallway and others stored in a bag.

Among many notable wins, a stand-out was a Southdown ram which went on from the Ellesmere show to become the champion sheep three years in a row at the Canterbury A&P Show in Christchurch about a decade ago. The ram won as a hogget, two tooth and four tooth and was a mainstay sire at the Holly Farm stud and there’s still 50 straws from him banked away.

Before that, another two champion ewes won their classes when the Southdown competitions were particularly strong at the Christchurch event.

Mr Moorhead had another good result in the sheep pens, winning several red ribbons at the Ellesmere A&P Show on October 14 in strong winds unseen since he was president of the 1988 event.

A silver cigarette case presented to him at a centenary show and a sugar bowl are prized possessions.

Ms Jermyn Benny said Mr Moorhead’s show longevity would take some beating.

“There’s not that many around that have that connection and kept it up. Neville is an active A&P person and I can’t think of anybody that would embody that A&P movement more than him. The fact that Neville was racing around the other day trying to find stock judges for the Young Farmers competition at the Ellesmere show just shows his commitment.”

Close to the front of the book is a photograph of the grand parade with men dressed in suits and women in hats and their finest dresses. Behind them are 1920s, 1930s and 1940s cars in neat rows.

As the horses and calves marched past the crowd a young Mr Moorhead, only 6 at the time, was sitting on the ring pipe at the top of the showgrounds watching the parade in about 1947.

The memory of those animals going past remains with him like yesterday.

He can’t imagine ever stopping showing.

“I will keep going for as long as I can. I don’t know how long it will be, but I’m still keen.”

2022 Flock Book Published

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On August - 7 - 2022

The NZ Southdown Society Flock Book for 2022 has been published and non-members and interested visitors  can view it online here

New Flockbook & Member Directory

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On September - 9 - 2021

The 2021 NZ Southdown Society Flockbook (Volume 90) is now available to be viewed and/or downloaded on our Flockbooks page 

Flockbook Cover Vol 90

We have also made all the breeders contact details available, so if you ate looking to source flock rams you can probably find a breeder in your area. These can be found uder the contact section in the navigation menu above or by visiting the ‘Contact the Breeders‘ page.

All about taking Southdown ‘to next level’

Posted by Christina On December - 4 - 2018

By Sally Rae, Rural Life, ODT Dec 3 2018

Don Murray, of Lawrence, views some of his Southdown sheep.

Don Murray, of Lawrence, views some of his Southdown sheep.

 Southdown sheep might be a breed steeped in history — it is the oldest of the terminal sire breeds in the UK — but a group of breeders in New Zealand is firmly focused on positioning it for the future, as  Sally Rae reports.

Lawrence farmer Don Murray quips he is a novice when it comes to breeding Southdown sheep.

There were stalwart breeders who had been there “forever” and from whom he had learned a lot since establishing his stud in 2006.

Mr Murray said he had always liked breeding sheep and was interested in recording. His father-in-law, who had bred Southdowns, further encouraged his interest to venture into stud breeding.

He had always been impressed by the breed, particularly its early maturity and ability to get lambs on the truck early.

His stud ewe numbers had built up to about 240 and were run in conjunction with a total operation of just under 5000 stock units on 550ha, following the recent acquisition of more land.

It was a hill country property and so it was a different environment from some areas where stud sheep were farmed, and had larger paddocks and gullies, yet the breed thrived.

He sold 60-odd rams a year and with many being used for hogget mating, he thought he had better go back to that himself.

Now two years into hogget lambing, it was “just so easy”, resulting in good lambs at weaning and a very saleable product.

Last year, 40% of his works lambs went on the truck at weaning and a lot of those would have been Southdown-cross, he said.


Southdown-cross progeny test lambs being graded by Miles Medlicott at weaning, watched by John Macaulay.

Southdown-cross progeny test lambs being graded by Miles Medlicott at weaning, watched by John Macaulay.

That was where the real advantage of the breed was — “the ability to be gone” — and to yield at a variety of weights.

Now breeders were trying to the breed “to the next level” and the establishment of a Southdown progeny test was about providing validation, he said.

The progeny test, based at Simon and Kirstin Engelbrecht’s property at Stoneburn, near Dunback, was now in its second year and involved 20 sires from 14 breeders from Northland to Southland.

The Engelbrechts did not traditionally use Southdowns but were interested in supplying breeding ewes for the programme.

The couple were very successful commercial farmers, winning the Otago Ballance Farm Environment Awards and the New Zealand ewe hogget competition.

Mr Engelbrecht was responsible for getting the ewes in the trial mated and the lambs on the ground.

Lamb survival of the Southdown-cross progeny was excellent with less than 4% losses from lambing to tailing. Lambs would then go to Southdown breeder Chris Medlicott’s specialist fattening operation near Waimate to be finished.

One of the drivers of the programme, which is being supported by Beef + Lamb NZ Genetics, is Oamaru Southdown breeder and veterinarian Dave Robertson.

It could be difficult for smaller breeds to get scale to get good performance recording numbers, Mr Robertson said. The solution was to have a progeny test where the environment was standardised.

Objectives included getting better accuracy and reliability with performance recording, better genetic connectedness between breeders, comparing commercial meat quality traits within the breed, exploring some of the genetic technologies that were available for modern sheep breeding and looking at things like intramuscular fat and eating quality, and demonstrating the commercial relevance of the breed to industry.

There had always been the perception that Southdown and Southdown-cross had good eating quality but one of the aims was to get numbers around that.

Stoneburn farmer Simon Engelbrecht (left) and South Canterbury Southdown breeder Chris Medlicott discuss the logistics of the Southdown progeny trial.

Stoneburn farmer Simon Engelbrecht (left) and South Canterbury Southdown breeder Chris Medlicott discuss the logistics of the Southdown progeny trial.

“We want Southdown sires that produce lambs that grow fast, yield well and taste good — with the science to prove it,” he said.

Traits other than production were also important to breeders, with the likes of structural soundness and feet still important to the breed.

To be able to have a “snapshot into the future” of what a ram lamb could produce was very powerful. It removed some of the “guesswork and hoping something clicks” with a breeding programme.

The next step was how to harness that information and it had the potential to change how genetics were chosen.

Southdown New Zealand president Todd Anderson, of Winton, said the breed had continued to evolve over time to meet the requirements of the industry.

The main focus was to maintain “killable growth’ — meaning that lambs were killable at any stage, from 14kg or 15kg if need be through to 25kg “or whatever”, Mr Anderson said.

Breeders had a strong belief that it was not just about mass production, it was about quality of product.

The only way for New Zealand to economically progress was to sell a premium product to people that had the means to pay for it.

Part of that was that the consumer would want a story. The Southdown  was one of the oldest sheep breeds in the world. And as far as meat quality was concerned, it was about grain, colour and marbling.

Mr Anderson said the breed was  the wagyu of the sheep world in some ways and produced “beautiful quality meat”.

There had to be a conscious effort not to lose those attributes and so the instigation of the progeny trial was very exciting.

Carcass attributes, finishing ability, feed efficiency and killable growth were factors that were important to  Southdown New Zealand  as breeders, as well as to its clients in the sheep industry,  if it wanted to be in that global niche market.

New Zealand needed to realise that if it continued to sell based on commodity needs, then it would fast-track itself to the “bottom of the rung”.

Southdown breeders had always been proactive in terms of embracing science, so that was not something new, while stockmanship was also an important aspect.

The future — by continuing to maintain killable growth and a quality product for the consumer — was looking bright, but breeders also acknowledged they could not “stand still and rest on our laurels”, he said.

Veteran Southdown breeder John Macaulay, of South Canterbury, applauded the progeny test initiative.

He watched last season’s lambs go through the process at Alliance Group’s Smithfield plant on January 31,  almost 450 lambs weighing in at an average of 19.4kg.

He was impressed with things in the cooling room, where the lambs were a “sight to behold”. Looking across at comparable lambs of other breeds, they were “all over the place with no uniformity”, he said.

Ultimately, it was about growth rate, muscling and protein  being produced as quickly as possible and the Southdown was one of the breeds that could do that.

There were about 70-odd registered breeders in New Zealand and most were “totally dedicated”, which was one of the reasons the breed was performing, he said.

Easy lambing with lambs that grow

Posted by Christina On March - 2 - 2016

Easy lambingBy Peter Burke

Roger Tweeds runs 2300 Romney ewes and 200 hoggets on his 300ha farm near Lawrence, Central Otago.

Tweed’s been 30 years on his present farm, a mix of river flats and steep country and typically dry in summer.

He’s experimented with a variety of terminal sires over the years, but has settled with the Southdown which he puts across up to 500 ewes in his B flock and all his ewe hoggets.

Tweed says the Southdown makes for easy lambing and what he likes most is that the lambs grow well and come weaning time he has a good product to sell. He reckons with some other terminal sires he’s tried, while the lambing percentage was good the growth rate was not and that’s what counts!

Tweed says this is especially so with the lambs from the ewe hoggets.

“My place is steep and gets hot in summer. I notice that the Southdown rams and their progeny do well in this environment. I love the Southdown because they just keep on growing,” he says.

He selects his B flock ewes based on how the animals look, not on their age. As for weaning, this depends on the state of the lambs.

“The first lambs are generally weaned in mid-December, a mixture of those put to the terminal sire and those from the commercial flock. I don’t lamb an early mob as some people do.

“For example, last year I weaned after new year. I don’t farm by the calendar, I farm for the betterment of the animals.”

Tweed says the Southdown ram produces a “good meaty sheep” and he’s especially pleased with the lambs from the hoggets. He reckons the weight these lambs put on sets them aside from some other terminal sire breeds available.

Southdown NZ National Tour 2015

Posted by Christina On May - 17 - 2015

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.”

Farm holds long family history

Posted by Christina On June - 27 - 2012
Omakau Southdown Breeder Donny Maclean

Omakau Southdown breeder Donny Maclean with some of the sheep on display during a New Zealand Southdown southern tour.

The Maclean family, of Omakau, will next year mark 60 years of breeding Southdown sheep.

Don Maclean started the Bellfield Southdown stud in 1953 and the stud now encompasses 120 ewes.

Bellfield was one of 11 properties visited during the New Zealand Southdown southern tour which was hosted in Otago and Southland last week.

The property is farmed by Donny and Cathy Maclean, their daughter Kate, and Mr Maclean’s parents, Don and Win.

All five contributed to the running of the farm, with a small amount of casual labour employed for lamb marking and haymaking.

Bellfield was taken up in 1889 by Donny Maclean’s great-great-grandfather, upon his arrival from the Orkney Islands.

The family landed at Port Chalmers, taking the train to Dunback and then walked to Omakau, a journey that took four days.

Mr Maclean’s great-great-grandfather went blind on the ship on the way to New Zealand and so his two sons and a daughter led him by the hand on the long journey. The elder son broke his leg three miles from their destination.

With some additions to the original property over the years, the Maclean family now farms 890ha, of which half is under flood irrigation and the remainder is unirrigated.

As well as the Southdown stud, a South Suffolk stud was added in 1986 and a Dorset Down stud in 1992.

The family runs 2150 crossbred ewes and 650 stud ewes, 670 crossbred hoggets, 165 stud ram hoggets and 180 stud ewe hoggets. They also run 1100 merino wether hoggets on the hill and 100 cattle.

A lot of emphasis was placed on performance recording of the stud sheep, Donny Maclean said.

“We want to know that we are able to present our clients with as much information as they require about the sires we produce.

“They can go away happy in the knowledge that the rams they have purchased are proven to give them maximum returns for their farming business,” he said.

Australian Southdown Breeder Graeme Dehnert

Australian Southdown breeder Graeme Dehnert has been enjoying his first trip to New Zealand.

About 45 people were on the tour, including some Australian visitors. Graeme Dehnert, from the Fernhill stud in Victoria, was on his first trip to New Zealand.

Last year, some New Zealand breeders visited his property as part of a tour and he decided it was an opportunity to catch up with people and see some sheep.

He is also returning in November for the Canterbury A and P Show.

Mr Dehnert has 180 stud ewes, along with a flock of commercial ewes, a cattle share-farming operation and some cropping on the 400ha property.

The Southdown stud was established by his father in 1930 and the breed was “in the blood”.

He won champion Southdown ram at the Royal Melbourne Show last year.

Southland Southdown Breeders Club chairman Rob Hall believed the breed was in good heart in New Zealand.

Describing it as “go-ahead”, he said there was a lot of potential, especially for breeding early lambs. Getting lambs away early was “money in the bank”.

Ram sales had gone well this year and it was encouraging to see some new studs being established.

The first Southdown stud flock in New Zealand was founded in 1863.