Pioneer NZ sheep breeder was criticised and ostracised

Today, performance recording is standard, with many farmers basing their ram choices on indexes of key measurements in a ...
DAVID GIDDINGS/STUFF

Today, performance recording is standard, with many farmers basing their ram choices on indexes of key measurements in a central database.

Hawke's Bay romney breeder Tony Parker, 86, recognised at the Sheep Industry Awards for his "significant contribution" to the industry, was lambasted and ostracised when he promoted revolutionary methods of measuring a sheep's performance in the 1960s.

Recalling the start of a system that is now accepted practice, he says the "wonderful, simple logic" of performance measuring proved irresistible when he first heard it in 1955.

The advice came from Massey University Professor Al Rae speaking to a farmers' meeting at Waimarama.

"He told us the best way to improve the romney breed was to measure our sheep's performance - weigh our lambs at weaning, weigh the wool from their first shear and to take note of which ewes bred twins.

READ MORE: Sheep Industry Awards recognise industry leaders

"If you want meat, if you want wool, you measure for it. It took all the mystique out of breeding and opened it up to reality."

Hawke's Bay retired farmers Robin and Tony Parker accept the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Individual or Business making a ...
BRITTANY PICKETT/STUFF

Hawke's Bay retired farmers Robin and Tony Parker accept the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Individual or Business making a Significant Contribution to the New Zealand Sheep Industry Award at the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Sheep Industry Awards.

But removing that "mystique" was fiercely opposed by the breed societies who dominated the sheep industry.  Parker says they felt threatened by  Rae and the farmers who acted on his advice.

"They ran the ram fairs and the shows and appointed the judges. They conned us into thinking only they had a sixth sense that gave them the ability to judge the animals."

Breeding had become a "beauty contest" without any consideration for meat and wool production.

"They did the industry a lot of harm, breeding animals for what they thought were good looks, but we ended up with sheep that were squat, wool-blind and wide-headed, prone to foot rot and with 30 per cent of them needing to be helped to have their single lamb."

Parker became the first farmer to apply Rae's methods. It was the start of modern breeding techniques that have transformed the sheep industry.

Today, performance recording is standard, with many farmers basing their ram choices on indexes of key measurements in a central database.

Sheep are valued for their fertility, free-lambing, fast growth and meat production. They have narrow heads and shoulders and meaty backsides and their heads and legs are free of long wool.

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He remembers  Rae and his staff coming to the farm in 1961 with a state-of-the-art Munroe calculator to input the measurements he and his wife Robby had recorded. "It was several feet wide with cogs and wheels that clanked and clattered. The team worked on it all night and in the morning we had an index."

According to the calculations, the top ram was an ugly brute by the standards of the time.

It had a long head and legs and narrow shoulders. It was so different from most of the stud sheep that it was decided to disband the stud and mate the ram to the farm's commercial ewes.

Parker became an enthusiastic supporter of performance recording and, as a member of the Hawke's Bay A & P Society committee, was able to get a special class introduced based on the new system.

It measured key indicators of a ewe bearing twin lambs in succeeding ewes, with the figures from all five animals included.

It was accepted as a Royal Show class and lasted 10 years before disappearing as shows became less important to breeders.

With the first indexes calculated, Parker and a few other early converts of  Rae decided to advertise their rams. "That's when all hell broke loose, " he remembers. "The breed societies immediately went on the offensive."

They tried to socially ostracise him and Robby. "We were lucky to live out here away from areas like Manawatu's Ram Alley and that none of our friends were stud breeders."

More importantly, his ram clients stuck by him. During the next 15 years, his lambing percentages escalated from 100 per cent to 150 per cent and stayed there.

With results like this, the move to recording quickly spread and breeding groups were formed to make the most of the new technology.

By the 1980s they were putting their top animals into a central flock and making big gains by pooling their resources.

Parker regards  Rae, who died in 2009, as one of the country's greatest scientists.

"The reason our livestock industry is thriving today is to a great deal due to him. I was very lucky to have been influenced by him."

Other award winners at the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Sheep Industry Awards:

Central Otago farmers Alan, Jean, Richard and Abby Hore won the Blackdale Stud Sheep Industry Supplier of the Year Award. Nominated by their processors Silver Fern Farms, this award recognises the family's ability to supply lamb that consistently meets company specifications.

The Hore family run Beaumont Station at Millers Flat, Central Otago. They have been loyal suppliers for the meat company for many years and last season supplied 14,543 lambs at an average specification rate of 94.2 per cent.

Because they farm halfbreds, the family has a year-round supply profile, with 30 per cent of the lambs sold for a premium in October.

Wyndham farmer Hayden Peter was successful after his third nomination in the awards in winning the Ballance Agri-Nutrients Sheep Industry Emerging Talent Award.

Peter's involvement in the sheep industry extends far beyond the commercial flock he farms on 430 hectares in Southland. He also runs 800 stud ewes, is the secretary of the Southern Texel breeders Alpha and Suftex breeding groups, vice chairman of Beef + Lamb's Southern South Island Farmer Council and the council's representative on the Farmer Research Advisory Group.

He thanked his previous employers for the time they had given him to personally develop himself.

"It's only come to my attention now that I am a full-time farming how precious time is, so I'd just like to acknowledge them for the time they have given me."

Jeff Farm managers John and Liz Chittock have trained and mentored dozens of farm cadets into the sheep industry for the past 17 years. They received the Silver Fern Farms Sheep Industry Trainer of the Year Award.

Industry Awards

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Sheep Industry Science Award – Professor Derrick Moot, Lincoln University.

Blackdale Stud Sheep Industry Supplier of the Year – Alan, Jean, Richard and Abby Hore

Ballance Agri-Nutrients Sheep Industry Emerging Talent- Hayden Peter, Wyndham

Tru-Test Sheep Industry Innovation Award- StockX

Silver Fern Farms Sheep Industry Trainer of the Year – John and Liz Chittock, Jeff Farm

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Individual or Business making a Significant Contribution to the New Zealand Sheep Industry – Tony Parker, Hawke's Bay

Genetic Traits Awards

Alliance Group Ltd New Zealand Terminal Worth – Waikite FocusPrime™, Focus Genetics, Peter Strawbridge, Reporoa

​Beef + Lamb New Zealand Terminal Trait Leader for Lamb Growth – Rosebank FocusPrime™, Focus Genetics, Barry and Julie Crawford, Gore

AbacusBio New Zealand Maternal Worth – Andrew and Katherine, Russell and Pam Welsh, Gore

Beef + Lamb New Zealand Maternal Trait Leader for Parasite Resistance - Nikau Coopworth, Kate Broadbent, Waikaretu

 - Stuff

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