Ewe hogget competition great learning experience says regional convenor

Closing dates are approaching for the national ewe hogget competition. Kate Taylor went to the Tikokino farm of one of its regional convenors to find out more.

Tikokino farmer Patrick Worsnop on the hills overlooking a large portion of his farm's fertile river flats.
Kate Taylor

Tikokino farmer Patrick Worsnop on the hills overlooking a large portion of his farm's fertile river flats.

Learning opportunities are a big bonus of the national ewe hogget competition, says one of its regional convenors, Patrick Worsnop.

"There are big prizes but that's not why people do it. The real prize, whether you win or not, is what you learn. Even when you're just sorting your sheep for the judges and doing some research on their figures, you're learning about your own operation."

The competition asks for commercial sheep farmers to put forward their replacement ewe hoggets. They are required to exhibit 80 per cent of their total numbers (minimum of 200).

Some of Kowhai's lincoln ewe hoggets running with the complete teaser ram.
Kate Taylor

Some of Kowhai's lincoln ewe hoggets running with the complete teaser ram.

"Farmers can take out animals that don't please the eye or match the phenotype or wool of the majority of the flock. The goal is to make the line as presentable as possible. The hope is that everyone will do this with all their stock, not just for the competition, because that 80 per cent ends up being focused on what you're trying to achieve in your flock while the other 20 per cent is a distraction. At the end of the day the purpose of the competition is to improve the quality of the New Zealand ewe flock."

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Fifty points are awarded for flock performance, 20 for phenotype (breed type and flock evenness) and 15 points each for breeding objectives and wool. Ewe hoggets can be mated or unmated. Breed sections within the competition are perendale, coopworth, romney, crossbred, composite (three crosses or more) and fine wool, which incorporates merino, corriedale and halfbred.

Lincoln ewe hoggets on Patrick Worsnop's farm at Tikokino.
Kate Taylor

Lincoln ewe hoggets on Patrick Worsnop's farm at Tikokino.

Entries close on April 10 in the North Island and on April 21 in the South Island with judging to follow. A presentation dinner will be held in early June to announce the winners.

"The competition gives farmers the opportunity to benchmark their flocks against others at both local and national level as well as giving them the chance to compare different farming systems and learn from other competitors as well as the judging panel."

He says there are category awards as well as a young achievers special award.

Patrick and Laura Worsnop on their family's Tikokino farm, Kowhai.
Kate Taylor

Patrick and Laura Worsnop on their family's Tikokino farm, Kowhai.

"That gives encouragement to the young farmers coming in to learn who might not yet have their ideal top-performing flock. We want farmers to enter whether they're perfect or not. In fact, they'll learn even more by entering a few times."

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Patrick's involvement in the ewe hogget competition came after involvement in the sheep section of the Central Hawke's Bay A&P Society.

"The A&P Society was a good way to become part of the community when I came back on to the farm 12 years ago. I've been head of the sheep section for eight years, until I stepped down last year, and have been a regional convenor of the ewe hogget competition for the past five years.

The target carcass weight for Patrick Worsnop's trade bulls is 425kg.
Kate Taylor

The target carcass weight for Patrick Worsnop's trade bulls is 425kg.

"I have to admit though, I became involved for selfish reasons... to learn more about farming. I wanted to learn more off the farm from people who were performing well. So I thought if I could travel with the judges and meet the entrants and hear about systems and management and targets then I would learn something… and I think I have," he says, laughing.

"Gaining some external perspective has been invaluable."

"One of the biggest thrills was taking the national judges around the North Island finalists last year. We saw 10 very good hogget flocks and I got to spend a week in the vehicle with the judges, who themselves have top reputations. Seeing the passion from these farmers was great. They're passionate about their sheep. They're passionate about their farms, their futures and about being successful. Everyone learns something every time and they all enjoy the process – both the judges and the entrants."

Mature bulls being finished alongside lincoln ewe hoggets in Central Hawke's Bay.
Kate Taylor

Mature bulls being finished alongside lincoln ewe hoggets in Central Hawke's Bay.

Worsnop was born and bred on his family farm, Kowhai, off SH50 near Tikokino in Central Hawke's Bay. But a different world awaited after attending Lindisfarne College and getting a double degree in architecture (with honours) and building science at Victoria University. Overseas he worked as an architect and earlier in the computer industry before coming home 12 years ago to try his hand at farming.

He is managing the farm under his father's guidance and alongside Finnish wife Laura and their young daughter Tilda.

The farm has been in the family since Worsnop's grandfather Horace started farming here in 1943. Worsnop's father Bruce took the lead from his father in the mid-1970s.

"In those early days, back in the 40s, our fertile river flats were covered in gorse and no one had considered farming them. You wouldn't know those paddocks now, but there's still room for more development. Irrigation will make a huge difference. I'm looking forward to the Ruataniwha storage dam going ahead. It will enable us to manage a resource that otherwise is washing out to sea. It can't help but improve farming opportunities in the district while utilising a wasted resource and it can't help but boost the wider Hawke's Bay community."

Bruce is well known in the lower North Island for his passion for Belgian blue cattle. His stud was dispersed about four years ago and the breeding cattle have been replaced by finishing bulls. Patrick prefers beef-bred bulls and buys them on demand as the feed or the prices dictate.

"At different times of the year they come thick and fast and at other times they're not thick enough. We do tend to increase numbers over the winter though. We like buying in larger bulls – R2 or two year olds – and kill them in the top weight range with a target carcass weight of 425kg. We'd love to lay our hands on more mature bulls so we can harness that last burst of meat growth."

The farm processes animals with Silver Fern Farms.

"I like the thought of the lambs being at the Takapau works in 20 minutes and the cattle can be at Pacific in under an hour."

The farm has 2000 lincoln ewes, most mated to lincoln rams, plus breeding hoggets.

"For the past eight years the hoggets have been mated with a Pitt Island terminal sire because their survival is phenomenal. We'd be unlucky to lose more than two or three per cent of those born. They're tough sheep. They stand up in a storm and they survive. With hoggets in particular that's important. Our breeding of polled Pitt Island sheep has also taken their horns out of the equation," he says.

"We target getting all the non-replacements off the farm by the end of January, although most are gone before Christmas, so we can prioritise finishing the bulls."

A second line of lincoln ewes is put to dorper rams.

Worsnop and his father have developed a dorper stud and improved Bruce's already strong lincoln stud and are seeing a growth in ram sales, although not in the huge numbers sold by Bruce in the past.

"Personally though I think more people should put our lincolns across their replacement flocks then return to their standard breed of choice. We've seen lasting 20 per cent increases in wool production from that first cross. If you were to get that kind of increase in income on one part of the farm, with costs taken into consideration, why wouldn't you? The hybrid vigour gained from the cross would invigorate the strengths of the original flock in the process."

 - Stuff

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