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Wairere hits the country road to talk with farmers

Masterton-based award-winning ram breeder business Wairere Rams [WR] is travelling across New Zealand this month to offer advice to sheep farmers.

Local and retired farmers gathered at the Gladstone Inn last Thursday evening to kick off the first of WR’s roadshow events.

For the second year in a row, sheep and beef farmers are experiencing on-farm inflation levels that haven’t been seen since the early ’80s, according to Beef and Lamb New Zealand [B+LNZ].

Average farm profit before tax this year will come out at $146,300, B+LNZ has estimated – a 31 per cent decrease from 2021–22.

Wairere principal Derek Daniell told the Times-Age that WR has been the biggest ram supplier in the country since 1987, enjoying its peak year thus far back in 2005-06, when it sold 5,500 rams, including 800 leased.

Since then, the country’s sheep population has fallen drastically, with the collapse of the wool industry a major contributor.

Stats NZ’s latest survey for Agricultural Production Census 2022 reveals the national flock sat at 25.3 million sheep, 2 per cent fewer than the previous year.

Since 2002, sheep numbers in NZ have plummeted by 14.2 million, or 36 per cent.

A recent slap in the face to sheep farmers was the government’s decision to supply synthetic carpet sourced from the United States to roughly 800 small and remote schools.

“They’ve got so clever that we’ve been pushed out of the playing field basically,” Daniell said.

Wool prices have nose-dived, with farmers forking out more money to shear their sheep than the wool is worth.

“Even back in my father’s time, farmers spent their wool cheque on bulls, and now there’s not much wool cheque; they now spend their lamb cheque on bulls,” Daniell said.

As a ram breeder, Daniell is prepared for downturns and although sheep numbers have dropped, WR’s productivity has increased.

The WR roadshows are about adapting, doing more with less, and passing on information they have learnt from their clients.

“Not only have sheep numbers shrunk, but people use fewer rams per 1000 ewes. Therefore, the number of rams required continues to drop away,” Daniell said.

“One could be optimistic looking at what farmers have paid for bulls this season, but I think it’s normally the case that farmers pay three times as much for bulls relative to the value of progeny than they do for rams.”

WR believes it’s too early for farmers to throw in the towel when it comes to making a profit from wool, as the business is keeping in close contact with research and development programmes that aim to make wool a valuable product again.

“It’s my fond hope that we can get to a position where wool is worth at least $10 greasy at the farm gate, and therefore we could be making $400 per hectare gross revenue from wool,” Daniell said.

The second direction WR is heading towards is developing a flock of sheep that grow no wool.

In April, the WR team and veterinarian specialist Ian McDougall transferred 458 Bare Hair sheep embryos from the UK into recipient ewes.

McDougall inseminated 637 Wairere ewes with Bare Hair sheep semen.

Several NZ farmers have already made headway on breeding sheep without wool, and WR anticipates the number will increase if wool prices continue to sit at a depressing low for another three years.

“We’ve got to make your sheep farming easier and more profitable.”

Daniell said WR has had endorsements from clients who have complimented them on how well their rams have done.

“We had a client who started buying rams from us in 2004, and his accountant said to him some years later, ‘Just as well you changed your sheep breeder or you wouldn’t be here now’.

“He typically does 160 per cent lambing, and a lot of lambs go to the works at weaning time; he said it’s the virtuous system that keeps on working year on year.

“The sooner the lambs are gone, the sooner the workload drops off,” Daniell said.

The business has up to 40 years of long-term clients spread across New Zealand, with half of its rams going to the South Island.

WR Roadshow dates:

North Island

Thu July 13th
Cosmopolitan Club, Pio Pio, 4 pm

Fri July 14th
Multisport Centre, Stratford, 4 pm

South Island

Mon July 17th
Culverden Hotel, 3pm

Tue July 18th
Willesden Farm, 10 am and Oxford Working Men’s Club, 3pm

Wed July 19th
Pleasant Point Hotel, 3pm

Thu July 20th
Lawrence Golf Club, 3pm

Fri July 21st
Wyndham Hotel, 3pm–

Sat July 22nd
Lumsden Hotel, 3 pm

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