Which sheep breeds perform best in the hill country?
That's the million dollar question.
But, sheep breeders and scientists are hoping to find the answers in the first-ever hill country Central Progeny Test (CPT) which will evaluate different sire breeds under the same environmental conditions.
Abacus Bio managing director Neville Jopson said with more sheep being pushed onto the hills, because of the increase in dairying on the flats, it was important to test which breeds performed best on hill country.
Until now the CPT has evaluated the progeny of different sire breeds at lowland sites at Woodlands and Ashley Dene at Lincoln University.
However, it now includes two hill country sites - Koromiko Station, north-east of Masterton, and Onslow View at Millers Flat in Central Otago.
Onslow View is owned by North Otago-based farmers Grant and Ele Ludemann and spans a total of 3036 hectares ranging in altitude from 120 metres to almost 1000 metres above sea level.
It is one of their stable of farming operations in the South Island that make up their company EGL Pastoral.
The CPT involved mating 15 dual purpose rams and two link sires to about 860 commercial Perendale-Romney ewes in 2013 increasing to 1000 ewes this season.
The ram breeds used in the trial are Perendale, Romney, Coopworth, Texel and Texel-Romney and include the composite breeds Growbulk, Textra, TEFRom, Highlander and the maternal Kelso.
Their progeny were on display at a recent open day at Onslow View which was attended by both ram breeders and commercial farmers.
The CPT ewes are run on hill country and farmed under commercial conditions at 5 stock units a hectare.
They were artificially inseminated to the various ram breeds by AgResearch technicians and last season achieved a 64 per cent success rate and 120 per cent lambing (ewes to ram).
Grant described the CPT as "real exciting stuff".
He and Ele bought Onslow View in 2008 and embarked on a major development programme which has been funded by their other farming interests.
More than 40km of fencing was carried out in the first year and about 90km has now been completed.
High P levels, due to the previous owner applying plenty of super phosphate, meant only lime has been required on the hill country.
Onslow is managed by Jason and Karyn Templeton.
It also employs two shepherds, a tractor driver and a casual staff member.
As well as the CPT ewes, it carries another 10,000 breeding ewes, finishes about 16,000 lambs a year to 18kg carcase weight.
The property is also home to 500 Angus breeding cows but they will be reduced to 250 cows next year and their future will be evaluated.
"If we find we are running cattle on country where the ewes should be then there time will be limited," Grant said.
The Ludemanns have been supplying the Alliance Group with stock for the past 25 years.
"We're sending stock to the works every week of the year through our various operations," Grant said.
Abacus Bio consultant Nadia McLean said the aim of the CPT was to see if the breeds that performed well on the flat also performed well on the hill.
Fifteen ewe progeny would be retained from each sire.
The CPT ewes and lambs are all electronically tagged and Shepherd Plus would be used to determine parentage.
Ms McLean said the traits that would be measured include ewe lamb survival, FEC 1, hogget mating, number of lambs scanned (NLS), dag score and fleece weight.
All the ram lamb progeny out of the CPT ewes will be slaughtered and Viascan data will be collected from the animals, she said.
Jopson said most of the sheep research to date had been carried out on easy country, but it was important to find out which breeds performed well on the hills.
He said there was no such thing as a super ram.
"A ram that is best for one property may not be best for another.
"You want a ram that performs well on your property and meets your goals," he said.
The CPT is being run by Beef + Lamb New Zealand and consultants Abacus Bio with support from meat processor Alliance Group.
-Comprises 3036 hectares at Millers Flat
-Owned by Grant and Ele Ludemann
-Managed by Jason and Karyn Templeton
-Property also employs two shepherds, a tractor driver and one casual
-Altitude ranges from 120 to 997 metres above sea level
-Rainfall varies from 400mm at the southern boundary to 1000mm at top
CENTRAL PROGENY TEST:
-860 commercial Perendale-Romney ewes mated in 2013 (120 per cent lambing ewes to ram)
-This will increase to 1000 ewes for the 2014 mating
-15 sires and two link sires used in 2013
-10,000 Perendale-Romney ewes (lambing 130 per cent)
-16,000 lambs finished to 18kg carcass weight
-4000 works ewes grazed through summer as space/feed allows
-145 Ranger terminal sire rams used across all ewes
-500 Angus breeding cows (calving 90 per cent)
-50 mixed-sex Charolais cattle
-50 in-calf heifers
-215 Friesian-cross dairy heifer calves
-40ha fodder beet
-30ha rape and moata
- The Southland Times