Southdown Sheep Society, NZ

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Archive for the ‘Ram Sales’ Category

Ram prices continue to rise

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On December - 9 - 2022
Blair Robertson

Merrydowns Romney and Southdown Stud owner Blair Robertson in a pen of his Romney stud sires at his 14th annual on-farm ram sale in Waikoikoi last week.

The pursuit to breed structurally sound, high-performing commercial rams continues in West Otago.

Merrydowns Romney and Southdown Stud owner Blair Robertson said prices were slightly up at his 14th annual on-farm ram sale in Waikoikoi last week.

Of the 123 Romneys on offer, 111 sold for an average of $1750, including a top price of $7000.

Of the 90 Southdowns on offer, 83 sold for an average of $1300, including a top price of $4800.

“It’s probably the best group of Romneys and Southdowns I’ve put up.”

Rams were sold to buyers between Wairoa and Invercargill “and everywhere in-between”.

The Sheep Improvement Limited figures for his flock had increased this season, particularly for the Romneys, he said.

Commercial traits in his flock continued to improve as the figures in the genetic evaluation database rise, he said.

When asked if he trusted the numbers, he replied: “I love the numbers, but there has got to be a sheep there. You’ve got to have a structurally-sound, high-performance, commercial animal first. There’s no point having high numbers and the rams can’t shag ewes or they’ve got crook feet and they pack up or they’ve got a short jaw and they won’t survive.”

Getting the sheep type and database numbers right was a balancing act, he said.

The family had been breeding sheep for more than a century and ran the biggest Southdown flock in the world, he said.

His Romney flock was “1200-ewes strong”.

“We are ridiculously tough on them in terms of culling and we are starting to see the benefits of that — we have bone, carcass and performance.”

He would continue to improve the flock and this season had bought three Romney rams from the North Island and a Southdown ram from Canterbury.

“They are four bloody good rams.”

Credit: Shawn McAvinue

Chisholm getting a real buzz out of breeding Southdown sheep

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On December - 15 - 2021

[Story by Sally Rae]

Southdown breeders Matt Chisholm (left), of Omakau, and Dave Robertson, of Oamaru

Southdown breeders Matt Chisholm (left), of Omakau, and Dave Robertson, of Oamaru, discuss the attributes of the breed. 

Matt Chisholm is the new ram on the block in the world of stud sheep breeding – and he could not be happier.

On Monday, Chisholm – a familiar face on television and an advocate for mental health, having publicly opened up about his struggles with depression – will head to North Otago to sell a ram from his newly established Southdown stud The Land.

The Cordyline Southdowns ram fair will be like no other, held in the grounds of Brookfield Park, a Heritage New Zealand category 2 listed property which featured in the New Zealand House and Garden tour in 2019.

Built on the outskirts of Oamaru by renowned local architect Thomas Forrester for original owner John Gilchrist, the first mayor of Oamaru, it is now owned by Jennifer (JJ) Rendell, who since buying the property in 2003 has created an imaginative garden retreat surrounding a restored Victorian homestead.

Cordyline Southdowns, owned by North Otago couple Dave and Abby Robertson, will offer about 40 rams. There are also six entries from John and Margaret Macaulay’s Tahrua stud in South Canterbury, and Chisholm’s solitary offering of a ram he has dubbed Blair, after prominent Southdown breeder Blair Robertson.

“I’m not sure if it’s an exciting day for … Blair, he doesn’t really know what’s coming. It’s a hell of an exciting day for me because I’m going to market and really going to test where we’re at,” Chisholm said.

Chisholm, who grew up in Milton and Oamaru, had had a longtime interest in livestock and said it was now a privilege to be part of the stud breeding world.

“I was always going to be some kind of farmer, in inverted commas. I was always going to come back to some small amount of land. I couldn’t shake it, as much as I tried. I couldn’t get away from it,” he said.

During the latter stages of living in Auckland, when he was battling with since much-publicised depression, he would “get on Google and research up the wazoo”.

He had always liked the look of Southdown sheep and, after reading their story, fell in love with the old pure breed which had “stood the test of time”.

The Southdown is the oldest of the terminal sire breeds in the United Kingdom, and originates from the native sheep which have roamed the South Downs in the South of England for many hundreds of years. It was developed into a fixed type in the 18th century.

Chisholm had discovered the breed was “making a real comeback”, particularly for hogget mating, and he also had less-commercial reasons for wanting them in his paddock.

“For me, it’s basically about looking after myself and my mental health. I just want to walk around them and feel good about looking at good animals. They’re really commercially viable, it’s ticking all my boxes,” he said.

Chisholm and his wife Ellen are living in Omakau with their two young sons Bede and Finn, and baby daughter Bree who arrived in early October. They are building a house on their 29ha block of land at Chatto Creek, in the heart of rural Central Otago.

Chisholm founded his stud with the purchase of six ewes from Blair and Sally Robertson’s Merrydowns stud and five ewes from the Cordyline stud. When his first ewes arrived, it was “like a midwinter Christmas” for him.

Admitting to having an obsessive nature, no longer was he going to bed thinking about what the biggest current affairs story he could tell was. Instead he was thinking about lambing percentages and the likes.

“It’s quite mad,” he said.

“Blair” the ram was the progeny of an in-lamb ewe bought from Merrydowns.

“It’s a bit unfair because I didn’t breed him. It’s got my ear tag in it, really its a Merrydowns sheep,” Chisholm said.

Originally he had planned to breed from “Blair” but he later decided to sell the ram and purchase some new blood.

Next year, he might have about 50 ewes to the ram and, in a couple of years, he reckoned he might have 15-20 rams to sell.

“All I really want to do is just do something that I love. If I can sell a couple of rams a year to real red-blooded legitimate farmers, I’ll be chuffed.”

Chisholm acknowledged he had never been happier, even if it did mean he spent “far too much time” moving a couple of rams from paddock to paddock.

He felt very grateful that he had got to a position in life where he could make a certain amount of money doing the things he needed to do, which then opened up time to hang out with his family, and his land, “and have great conversations with good buggers”.

As his “serious work” was winding down for the year, Chisholm headed to West Otago on Tuesday this week for the Merrydowns ram sale, which offered both Southdowns and Romneys.

He was already familiar with some Southdown breeders — he did a talk during a Southdown Sheep Society’s southern tour earlier in the year, and he played rugby for Lawrence with the society’s president Don Murray many years ago.

Farmers were great; they liked that he was into sheep and wanted to know why, he said. They were also great at explaining things to him and he reckoned he quadrupled his knowledge in an afternoon.

Over several cans of Coke — Chisholm has been sober for more than a decade — he talked to “a lot of good buggers”— “mixing with my clan”, as he put it — and, as he drove away, he realised that was why he had “come home”.

Chisholm was delighted to be taking part in the Cordyline sale, saying Dave Robertson had “all the knowledge”, produced really good sheep and it was being held in a great location.

“I feel just bloody chuffed that he’s not laughed me out of the province and he’s invited me along.”

Veteran Southdown breeder John Macaulay was going to “bust out” his saxophone at the sale.

Dave Robertson quipped the ram sale could be “almost like a wedding”.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be.”

The motto was it was the latest version of an enduring breed.

“I can’t take any absolute credit for the stock I have, a whole lineage of Southdown breeders come before me,” he said.

It was important to keep purebred sheep “going forward” and he liked having both new breeders, such as Chisholm, and older, established breeders such as Mr Macaulay who had been involved in the Southdown breed since 1961.

For Mr Robertson, his aim was to continually try to breed better sheep while also trying to be more inclusive with other breeders.

“We need to work together to breed better sheep.

“I’ve always just tried to have an enjoyable atmosphere for myself, family and friends and ram clients. We’ve just got to keep it real. The other theme is farmers are real people, they’ve got real problems.

“[We’re] just trying to eat some genuinely good meat and see some genuinely good stock and keep everything in real time.”

A record was set at the Canterbury A&P Association elite ram and ewe fair on Friday.

Blenheim farmer Christina Jordan (left) was thrilled to sell her Southdown ram hogget for $17,000, which set a new record for the highest price at the Canterbury A&P Association elite ram fair on Friday.

Blenheim farmer Christina Jordan (left) was thrilled to sell her Southdown ram hogget for $17,000, which set a new record for the highest price at the Canterbury A&P Association elite ram fair on Friday.

Blenheim farmer Christina Jordan topped the sale, picking up a Canterbury A&P Association record price of $17,000 for her Southdown ram hogget, which was sold to Lachie Elliot, of Lammermoor Station in Central Otago.

The record beat three sales $16,000 paid in recent years, twice by Oxford farmer Dave Gilliespie, and one in partnership with North Canterbury farmer Phil Williams to buy a ram hogget off Ms Jordan seven years ago.

A regular at the Canterbury A&P Association ram fair, Ms Jordan had brought and sold several top priced rams in recent years.

“Buying quality usually pays off in the long run, especially with rams.

“If they’ve got good figures, there’s certainly demand for that overall package.

“We just try to get the right sire to our selected ewes to hopefully maximise their strengths and minimise their weaknesses.”

Top stud breeders were looking for conformation, soundness and overall balance, she said.

Ms Jordan said she bought the ram hogget’s sire in partnership with Masterton farmer Lucy Thornycroft and “he was a lot cheaper, he’s been a very good investment”.

Carrfields stud stock agent Callum Dunnett said Ms Jordan’s top priced ram hogget was “a magnificent animal, as good a ram as you’ll ever see”.

“This ram is quite unique. To see a 1.1-foot score, which is the best, is extremely rare and he’s got terrific figures to go with him and he’s the perfect package as an animal.”

Overall, Ms Jordan had a mixed result, as her other two Southdown ram hoggets were passed in.

Stock agents reported a mixed result overall.

“It’s been patchy,” PGG Wrightson livestock genetics auctioneer John McKone said.

While the Suffolk sheep had a good sale, the other breeds struggled, he said.

“The Suffolks probably had the best of the market and were able to tap into more of the buying power.

“The morning was difficult and it was probably underpinned by the commercial clients.”

The low wool price was having an impact, as well as lower ewe numbers and several stud breeders were now hosting their own on-farm ram sales, Mr McKone said.

The day’s second-highest price was $10,000 paid for a Suffolk ram hogget vendored by Eric Ross of Collie Hills Partnership, at Hakataramea in South Canterbury.

The ram was sold to a syndicate comprising North Canterbury farmers Jimmy Gardiner and Charles Miller-Brown, along with Symon Howard, of Lawrence.

Courtesy ODT Farming News – Article and photos by David Hill

Flying start for stud’s new ram

Posted by The Roving Shepherd On August - 24 - 2020

By Sally Rae

Jess (18), Jack (17), Blair and Sally (holding Stella, who is nearly 3) Robertson, at home at the Merrydowns stud in West Otago.

Jess (18), Jack (17), Blair and Sally (holding Stella, who is nearly 3) Robertson, at home at the Merrydowns stud in West Otago.

Back in January, some unusual cargo arrived on the tarmac at Dunedin Airport.

It was a Southdown ram, Kirkdale 36-18, which was flown on a passenger flight from Auckland, having previously made the trip over the Tasman from the Kirkdale stud in Tasmania.

The ram was bought by West Otago stud breeders Blair and Sally Robertson, of the Merrydowns stud, at Waikoikoi, who have the world’s largest Southdown stud.

Mr Robertson judged at a show in Geelong two years ago and was greatly impressed by the Kirkdale entries — Australia’s second-oldest Southdown stud, which was established in 1884 and is now run by fifth-generation Andrew Hogarth.

The team — from lambs to rams and ewes — was “awesome” and, while there, Mr Robertson offered to buy two of the rams, but the deal did not work out.

A Southdown ram, imported from Australia by Blair and Sally Robertson, arrives on the tarmac at Dunedin Airport in January.

A Southdown ram, imported from Australia by Blair and Sally Robertson, arrives on the tarmac at Dunedin Airport in January.

He told Mr Hogarth to keep them in mind for next year and, when he rang him in September last year, Mr Hogarth sent him some videos, photographs and pedigrees, and he selected three rams.

Of those three, Mr Hogarth was keeping two for himself and offering the third at his on-farm sale. So Mr Robertson asked if he could buy 36 — one of his keeper rams — which he felt was the pick of them.

Initially reluctant, Mr Hogarth asked for a week to think about it before agreeing to sell the ram and Mr Robertson told him to put him “on the next plane from Melbourne”.

Kirkdale was not a big stud but Mr Hogarth was a “real stockman” who “thinks along the same lines as us”, Mr Robertson, a fourth-generation stud breeder, said.

The ram was the best he had seen since he paid $14,000 for a ram from Brent Macaulay’s Maclaka stud in 2014. It was sired by an Australian ram he liked, Mr Robertson said.

His latest acquisition had “a decent set of feet and legs to start with”, along with the basic commercial traits — good hindquarter, muscling, depth and spring of rib.

Despite not seeing the ram in the flesh until he arrived at the airport, Mr Robertson said he had seen enough from the videos and also from Mr Hogarth’s other sheep.

“I’m really visual — I see lots of things other people don’t see.”

Kirkdale 36-18.

Kirkdale 36-18.

It was first sheep to be flown into Dunedin for about 20 years, and it was a “bloody comical” scene when the crate was being unloaded.


Travelling had no effect on the ram.

“You wouldn’t have known he had been anywhere. He’s that sort of sheep — just a grunter.”

He put the ram out with 185 ewes and he marked them all and came out of the ewes “as good as he went in”.

He believed the ram was going to be good for the sheep industry, particularly Southdowns, giving a straight outcross with a pedigree that was all Australian blood.

With the Maclaka sire, the Merrydowns stud — which has more than 700 ewes — had Australian blood, so it was “like with like” and not just a random selection.

He was a very similar sheep to the Merrydowns sheep and that was the key to try to find something like that.

It was not often in a lifetime you saw a ram that could make a significant difference and, if you did, then you should buy it, he said.

He was looking forward to seeing how he bred and it was likely the stud would retain five or six sons.

The benefits of using Southdowns included early maturing and the early mean kill; all their commercial lambs were killed at 20kg before lockdown, meaning there was room either to feed the ewes more or buy cattle or store lambs.

But lockdown was a major problem for a lot of farmers who still had lambs on and could not get them killed, Mr Robertson said.

The early mean kill date was critical for large commercial operations to get as many lambs as possible off the ewe as soon as possible.

Southdowns were ideal for hogget mating — “if you go to the trouble of putting your hoggets in lamb, you might as well get a decent lamb” — while the ewes were also very efficient over the winter.

He and his wife — who also have a Romney stud with about 1000 ewes, plus commercial ewes — were passionate about the sheep industry and the breeding industry, he said.

For them, it had to be “a package” — “there’s got to be figures but there’s also got to be a sheep. You can’t have one without the other,” Mr Robertson said.

A lot of modern sheep breeds had never been tried and tested; Southdowns had been culled for generations for those commercial traits of muscling and early maturing, the same as the Romneys which had been culled for centuries for their traits, he said.

In the 1950s, there were about 1200 stud Southdown flocks in New Zealand but they went out of fashion later on; there were now about 63 flocks and they were growing in popularity. Australia had also seen a resurgence in interest.

He believed there was a better type of Southdown in Australia, one that was more traditional, with more spring of rib and sounder, Mr Robertson said.

The family — which includes daughters Jess (18) and Stella (nearly 3) and son Jack (17) — were also “bloody passionate” about wool and took pride in producing quality fibre. Their Romney ewes shore about 7.5kg.

But the state of the wool industry was a “bloody disaster” and he implored consumers to stick to natural fibres such as wool, silk and cotton, rather than using synthetic products.

There were generations of the urban population who knew nothing about wool and were not aware of the benefits of it; they needed to be educated about those benefits and synthetic products taken off the shelf. If people were genuinely interested in the environment, then they should be demanding natural fibres, Mr Robertson said.