As lambing season looms for one of the country’s largest ram breeders, Times-Age rural reporter Beckie Wilson catches up with the Wairere Ram’s business manager Simon Buckley.
Tagging lambs within the first 24 hours of birth is “definitely not normal”, but in the rugged hill country of the 1070-hectare Wairere Ram station, this is the reality.
Lambing starts on September 3, so the eight-strong team had the ewes in the yards doing the “pre-lamb thing” last week.
This season, 5200 ewes are expected to be carrying about 13,000 lambs – 20 per cent carrying triplets, Mr Buckley said.
Scanning showed that is 200 per cent across the entire flock.
“At lambing time, we are sampling, going around every sheep, every paddock, every day, looking for every ewe that lambs and tag those lambs during the first 24 hours,” Mr Buckley said.
“It’s a logistical thing, we have to go out there and make sure we tag every lamb over a certain time frame.
“People say, ‘Wow how do you do that’ – it’s like a lot of big jobs, you do one at a time until you finish.
“Most farmers don’t go near their sheep at lambing, with modern sheep now they are pretty self-managing.”
This, among many other farming practices sets the breeding farm aside from many others in the country.
Wairere was started by John Daniell in 1967, which is now run by his son Derek Daniell and his wife Christine.
“We are supplying more rams in the New Zealand sheep industry than anyone else,” Mr Buckley said.
He started work on the farm over 30 years ago when they were selling about 800 rams a year. Now they are selling around 5000.
Due to the shrinking of the national ewe flock, that figure has decreased which is “disappointing but inevitable”.
Wairere, near Bideford in rural Masterton, has been reasonably prominent in the New Zealand market over the decades.
“We have had to increase our market share over time to even stand still, let alone grow.”
“It wasn’t a goal exactly, but we have obviously got a product that meets consumers’ and clients’ needs.”
At Wairere, only the strongest survive — having large flocks allows space for culling.
“Over a long period of time we were culling a lot of ewes that didn’t have that maternal instinct.”
They have diversified away from what once was a romney breeding farm.
They now breed eczema tolerant sheep, and composite flocks with a mix of exotic genes.
Mr Buckley works by the motto: “It’s a business, not just a farm”.
Wairere is the nucleus of the business’ flocks where the breeding is controlled and analysis done.
But the farm relies heavily on local farmers as breeding partners with satellite flocks ranging from 1000 to 3000 ewes across the region.
While the nucleus property only runs about 5500 sheep, they mate about 25,000 sheep across those flocks.
“It’s the way in which this business has expanded, and rather than buying more land.”
International joint ventures in South America, Britain and Australia have boosted the breeder’s reputation overseas.
“What we are talking about now is producing a lot of viable embryos here, and sending them to South America to expand and establish our flocks there.
“It’s the cheapest and easiest way to get pure-bred animals to go from here to there,” he said.
Due to the station’s terrain with only 20-hectares of flat land, the shepherds rely on horses to get around, but have farm bikes for normal operation.
“I don’t know of anyone else doing this job with horses, it’s a bit old fashioned.”
The station has long been known as the “university” in the industry, he said.
They take in one or two apprentices a year, offering the opportunity for people to fast track their careers.
Over 100 keen farmers have passed through the Wairere gates in Mr Buckley’s time on the station.
The station’s eight shepherds include four females, and have just named a new farm manager Anna Vaughan — which Mr Buckley says is following the trend of the rapidly growing number of females employed in the industry.
The station is proud to have Dayanne Almeida, a Brazilian woman who has been with them for eight years. She is studying part-time for a Masters in Sheep Genetics at Massey University.
Mr Buckley is positive ahead of another big lambing which he is planning to be another successful season.