Warmth required to finish lambs

PETER WATSON
Last updated 12:57 30/10/2012
Nicole Masters
COLIN SMITH/FAIRFAX NZ
TAILED: Brent Hodgkinson, left, tails the last of his lambs with the help of his son Reuben Hodgkinson, centre, and Kain Cresswell at his Island Valley Farm near Tadmor.

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Fine weather and fair prices are what Nelson sheep farmers want for Christmas.

With lambing over for all but those on colder hill country, most farmers are totalling up how well they have done.

Those on warmer properties closer to the sea have already finished tailing and have got their first drafts of lambs off to the works, while others are battling cool spring conditions trying to fatten up their animals.

Upper Takaka farmer Jonny Harwood said he had enjoyed his best ever lambing.

He had just finished tailing and had ended up with a percentage of about 150.

A decision to lamb a bit later had paid off as he had avoided a spell of cold, southeast weather.

As a result, more had survived.

His flock of 3200 wairere romney ewes and two-tooths was also getting more fertile, having scanned out at 180 per cent.

Mr Harwood said with more lambs to sell he expected to make about the same as last year despite a sharply lower schedule.

"Last season it was extremely high and unfortunately it has come back down to reality."

Dennis Meade said prolonged wet weather had knocked back lambs on his Sherry Valley property and he hoped to end with about 140 per cent, which was slightly lower than his average.

His 2600 ewes and two-tooths had scanned at a combined rate of 163, but lamb survival rates were down.

"It's annoying when it is wet and miserable for quite long periods as you end up with lambs a week or 10 days old which just conk out."

Lower lamb prices would make him a little more conservative about his spending, he said.

At Tadmor, Brent Hodgkinson had a more difficult time, saying he expected to finish with a lambing percentage of 115 from his flock of 3300, one of his lowest returns for some years.

"The autumn wasn't particularly good for our ewes and we got a bit of worm infestation and the quality of feed wasn't the best, " he said.

He had more losses than normal due to wet weather.

"Our lambs aren't as bonny as they usually are. They just need some warmth to grow."

Gary Basher, of Howard Valley, is another who wants to see some sunshine.

His hoggets are just finishing lambing on his rugged farm near St Arnaud and he has just started tailing lambs from his main ewe mob.

He expects his 1700 ewes will return 140 per cent, just shy of his best of 145 per cent, but disappointing given they scanned at more than 190 per cent. He predicts his 600 hoggets will lamb at 80-90 per cent. "We had reasonable weather for our ewes but had a couple of bad spells for our hoggets where we had to bring them into the shed overnight, which causes a lot of extra work but we didn't lose too many."

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Grass growth had come to a standstill over the past fortnight, checked by cold winds and snow down to the bushline every second night.

While his lambs wouldn't be ready to sell until March-April, he needed good weather up until and after Christmas to put weight on them, Mr Basher said, who this year finished third in the romney section of the national ewe hogget competition.

It had been cold enough that he hadn't needed to treat his lambs for fly strike.

"Even the sandflies aren't out yet."

He didn't expect to do as well as last year, when he averaged $100 per lamb, and was nervous the schedule would hold at $90.

With a lamb costing $76 to produce, it left little margin if prices fell further, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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