Judges' tough task to select ewe hogget finalists

The hoggets off Willie Menlove's farm which were judged winners last year.

The hoggets off Willie Menlove's farm which were judged winners last year.

Judges of the annual New Zealand ewe hogget competition faced a daunting task of whittling their way through 250 entries and 150,000 ewe hoggets spread throughout the country to find 11 finalists, all but one of whom were from the South Island.

More than half were from Central Otago. The winners of what is regarded as the country's premier sheep competition will be named at an awards and presentation evening in Cromwell on June 8.

Initially the competition's organisers had planned to hold this year's awards in Napier, but national convenor Stephen Rabbidge said recent environmental events, including heavy rain, flooding and facial eczema outbreaks, led to fewer entries from the North Island than expected. 

Willie Menlove from the Sweet Acres farm near Lumsden.

Willie Menlove from the Sweet Acres farm near Lumsden.

Rabbidge said it was not logistically possible to hold the awards in Napier, so organisers decided it was prudent to move the event to Cromwell instead.

READ MORE: High performing farmers aren't aiming for perfection

"It has been a very strong season for Central Otago sheep farms, which were well represented by the quality of stock we saw," he said.

However, he said climate was not the only factor in producing top ewe hoggets.

"It's also about good feeding and good breeding," he said. "Climate doesn't make an ordinary flock of hoggets a great flock of hoggets. You still need extremely sound farming practices to get these hoggets through to this standard."

This year the panel of national judges were Adrian Arnold (Napier), Blair Robertson (Gore) and Andrew Craw (Banks Peninsula).

On average the panel travels 4000 kilometres in seven days - three days in the North Island and four days in the South Island – to inspect each flock. They spend one hour on each property to assess the flocks and interview contestants about their business decisions, past, present and future.

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The object of the competition is for judges to identify the most productive and profitable flock replacements during their lifetime in each particular environment.

Rabbidge believes the competition is having a positive impact on the New Zealand sheep industry by identifying excellence and promoting optimal feeding and breeding regimes.

Generally judges inspect between 25 and 28 regional finalists during their national tour and usually there are three or four flocks that stand out, "but this year there was probably eight or nine that could easily be national winners," he said.

"The standard of entries is constantly improving with some lambing percentages now over 180 per cent with minimum wastage between scanning and docking. Mean kill dates, lamb weights, hogget live weights and ewe efficiency scores are all statistics that also continue to improve," he said.

Rabbidge said one of the primary aims of the ewe hogget competition was to encourage farmers to more critically evaluate their own stock.

Because they only had to exhibit 80 per cent of their replacement stock, they were already doing that by taking out 20 per cent of their hoggets before their flocks were judged.

"This competition illustrates the fact that farmers still have a major part to play in stock selection and they shouldn't rely on their ram breeders necessarily to do that for them," he said.

In some cases he said sheep farmers tended to rely too much on the inputs of their ram breeder instead of trusting their own judgment and knowledge to confidently assess their own stock.

The awards and presentation evening will be held at the Gate and Harvest Hotel in Cromwell, on Thursday, June 8, starting at 5.30pm. Tickets are available from greg@nzsheep.co.nz or by contacting (03) 358 9412.

Finalists for the 2017 NZ Ewe Hogget Competition are:

Coopworth : T&R Whitford (Tuakau), M Evans  (Poolburn).

Composite: M&D Power (Ettrick), J&S Andrews (Waipiata).

Crossbreed: Withell Family (Leeston), S&A Paterson (Ranfurly).

Perendale: M McElrea  (Edievale).

Romney: A Denham (Palmerston), R&M Power (Hawarden).

Fine Wool: J&J Cameron (Hyde), S&A Paterson (Ranfurly)

 - Stuff

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