Breeders should be pushing corriedales' advantages
Corriedale breeders are being pointed to lost opportunities where the hardy sheep breed would thrive.
PGG Wrightson wool representative Peter McCusker told a group of the breed's enthusiasts gathered in the Marble Point woolshed near Culverden that breeders should be taking a vested interest in opportunities to increase their numbers further south.
"We are seeing opportunities these days for corriedale breeders," McCusker said.
"Through increasing fertility and switching out of merinos into half-bred flocks, and a corriedale is really a stabilised half-bred, there is an opportunity there for corriedale growers to be promoting the breed in areas like Central Otago and Ranfurly where we traditionally see more half-breds. Why couldn't they be running a corriedale? There is the opportunity for some breeders to do a little more work in these areas."
A lot of merino growers were trying to increase their lambing percentage and had been disgruntled with wool prices the last few years, although not at the moment as there was a 20-year high, he said.
"I know of certain farms that have traditionally run half-breds where corriedales are now being run. They are getting better production and wool out of the corriedale than some of the traditional half-bred flocks."
The gathering was part of a Corriedale Society field day which also included presentations by ASB rural manager for Canterbury Kelvin Hore and AgResearch's David Scobie. There was also a 4WD farm tour.
"North Canterbury and Marlborough is a big corriedale area that's been in drought mode for three seasons. Corriedale growers have not been immune to this," McCusker said.
"From a wool perspective, I did notice that the corriedale sheep still provided wool and stores to sell through the drought.
"Corriedales were in a lot better shape than other breeds on restricted feed and the wool quality didn't noticeably drop off all through that period. It's a credit to the growers that kept these sheep going."
The corriedale breed was originally designed to be a hardy animal for the dry arid east coast conditions. McCuster said he noticed with the more modern high-performance cross-bred sheep that when they didn't have feed everything took a hit and the wool took a hit as well.
"There was a lot of tender, very dusty crossbred wool coming in," he said.
"The swint [natural grease of the wool] and the yield over the hot dry months dropped right off. The swint goes right up and dust gets stuck to it.
"We didn't see much of this with the corriedale wool and this was a positive in the drought period."
The way the corriedale bounced back post-drought had been a credit to farmers and the genetics of the sheep, McCuster said.
"They tended to respond pretty quickly, and didn't drop down to the same lows as other breeds. A lot of them probably didn't have to be grazed off quite as much. That's one attribute of the corriedale breed."
There is quite a premium for 25-27 micron wool, he said. Some breeders are trying to fine their corriedale flock off or adding other initiatives, mixing up breeds to soften the wool a bit to give clients other alternatives.
"It's a bit of a catch 22. Some of the better fertility flocks are probably sitting in that 29-31 micron range with slightly bigger, slightly broader sheep. It's always a challenge to breeders to fine wool up but maintain those traditional corriedale characteristics.
"But it can be done. There are the genetics and science out there to do it. It's probably easier done through cross breeding and a lot of young farmers are looking for a quick fix these days."
A lot of North Canterbury clips were coming off now, McCusker said.
"There are still some substantial corriedale clips out there, one of them being Marble Point. It's important to class out that medium line- that 28 and higher if you can identify those wools. As soon as you punch into that 29, 30, 31 you are starting to get into the fine crossbred which is being affected by the Chinese lack of participation in the market at the moment."