Sheep breeders find winning formula

DIANE BISHOP
Last updated 06:15 07/05/2014
Andrew and Heather Tripp
DIANE BISHOP/Fairfax NZ
TOP QUALITY: 2014 Southland Farm Environment Award winners Andrew and Heather Tripp are focused on breeding sheep that achieve high production in the hill country.

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The increase in dairying in Southland has pushed sheep on to the hill country.

Flat land has been taken over by dairy cows, forcing sheep to higher ground.

For Kaiwera farmers Andrew and Heather Tripp this has meant breeding high producing sheep which thrive in Southland's hill country.

"Our continued focus is to produce a sheep that will perform on this less intensive country," he told more than 100 farmers at a field day on his Nithdale Station property last week.

Nithdale's diverse farming operation includes commercial sheep, two sheep studs, a large dairy unit, forestry and farm stay.

Andrew is passionate about sheep farming but in 2007 he converted part of his property, on the northern side of Nithdale Rd, into a dairy unit milking more than 800 cows.

"We looked at the profitability of farming solely sheep but it didn't stack up," he said.

Lower order sharemilker Jan de Klerk runs the dairy unit, which enables Andrew to focus on his core business - breeding top quality stud rams for commercial farmers.

He farms about 3800 commercial romney ewes and 800 ewe hogget replacements on his 1478-hectare hill country property on Nithdale Rd.

The ewes lamb unshepherded on the hill from late September, which fits the pasture growth pattern, and they are achieving about 126 per cent lambing.

"It [the lambing percentage] could be higher and we know there is a lot of room for improvement," Andrew said. "But some of this country is undeveloped and we are not checking the sheep every day during lambing."

Andrew's grandfather, Charles Tripp, bought the 1478ha Nithdale Station in 1924 when it comprised just eight paddocks with broken down fences. It was overrun with rabbits and gorse.

Charles set about developing Nithdale to a high standard and "poured a lot of money" into the property.

Andrew's parents and family trust bought into the property in 1988.

In 2001 he and Heather, who have four children, bought into the farming company.

They eventually bought the land in 2008.

"We appreciate the opportunity my grandfather gave us," Andrew said.

"Our challenge is to farm it profitably and sustainably while looking after the environment."

The Tripps are doing just that.

They have won the supreme award in the Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards not once, but twice.

They first won the award in 2002 and then again this year.

Andrew's main focus is on breeding easy-care, high-performance romneys and since 1992 he has been selecting for worm resistance.

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In 2005 he introduced the Myomax gene for increased muscling.

Despite the increase in dairying, the Tripps have increased the number of rams they sell from about 150 a year to 500 a year.

"We still have a lot of confidence in the sheep industry.

"Our emphasis is on improving the performance in low-cost, low-input systems, particularly on extensive properties, where change in land use is limited," Andrew said.

Most of their ram clients are in the lower half of the South Island, but they also have some as far north as Gisborne. "The spread of our clientele shows that our sheep are adaptable and perform in a number of different environments under a number of different management systems," Andrew said.

They plan to grow their client base in both the South Island and North Island and make use of the new DNA SNP chip technology to select for facial eczema resistance.

Andrew attributes the success of his operation to his many staff.

They include lower order sharemilker Jan de Klerk, sheep and beef farm manager Donald Cornwall, head shepherd Chris Martin, tractor driver Bill Aitken and part-time administrator Sue Miller.

There are also several other staff who work under de Klerk as well as some casuals and, at times, some Telford students.

Andrew is also keen on trees and has more than 40ha planted in macrocarpa, douglas fir, eucalyptus nitens and red beech.

"The trees are maturing now and providing a lot of good shelter and they're adding value to the property," Andrew said.

The Tripps face another round of on- farm judging in the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Awards this month before the overall winner is announced at a national sustainability showcase in Christchurch on June 26.

BUZZ OF SUCCESS

Nithdale Station's dairy unit is humming along.

Lower order sharemilker Jan de Klerk said production from the 800 cows was expected to be about 348,000 kilograms of milksolids this season.

"We will be about 5 per cent down this season with fewer cows being milked," he said.

But, despite the lower overall production, profit will be up because of the increase in the milksolids payout.

Nithdale Station owner Andrew Tripp said he decided to convert 275 hectares of the 1478ha property to dairy in 2007-08 because of low returns for sheep and to add diversity to the farm business.

However, teething problems in that first year meant production was well down on budget because of management and staff issues, he said.

"The key lesson I learnt was to do as much of the conversion yourself, because if anything goes wrong you only have yourself to blame."

Andrew said employing a lower order sharemilker meant he could leave the running of the dairy unit to de Klerk and focus on his other faming operations.

The cows are wintered on Nithdale, and about half are on crop, which has assisted in the on-going development of the property.

About 108 friesian and hereford cross bulls were retained from the dairy unit last year and these will be finished at 260kg to 270kg carcass weight.

De Klerk said he was proud of his staff. They include Rachel Rushton, who is second-in-charge (2IC) in the shed; Bronwyn Brown who is 2IC on farm, and dairy assistants Ben Agate and Antony Ewing.

"Without the staff I couldn't do this job," de Klerk said.

"I sleep in quite often."

- The Southland Times

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