On the back of a series of droughts, Central Hawke’s Bay sheep farmers Sam and Hannah Morrah decided to change the way their farm had run for generations and stamp their mark. They partnered with Focus Genetics and their decision to change sheep breeds paid off.
“We wanted to take the farm to the next level. We can see the differences, we’ve simplified our system and now have flexibility in a climate that can be pretty unforgiving,” says Sam. They had been striking issues with their two tooths not getting to good weight and getting hit on scanning percentages resulting in lower lambing performance.
Moving to Focus Genetics came down to the work the company was doing on its breeding programme. “I’ve always been a big fan on relying on someone who knows, to provide you with what you want. Focus Genetics’ job is to produce top genetic sheep and we rely on them for that.”
The Morrahs chose Primera (now FocusPrime™) because they liked performance data and the idea of knowing the end market of their produce. Says Sam, “In times of dry when things are pretty tough around the country, our lamb is potentially more attractive than a more traditional breed type. The feedback we’ve had is Primera lamb grows fast, yields well and it tastes good.”
Over the summer of 2010 they changed their whole breeding programme from Romney ewes to Highlander with a Primera ram. They leased 40 breeding rams and bought in two tooth ewes from a Sheep Link supplier.
They continue to get their ewes from Ormondville farmer Grant Massie and also use another Focus Genetics client from Waiararapa, “The key is having a constant supply of the two tooths coming from the same person. The ewes are delivered on a set date and weight so we can farm to them arriving. We’re all striving for the same goal: a ewe that produces her body weight in lambs at weaning.”
“In the days when the farm was all Romney with a small terminal sire flock using the older sheep, we managed 800 lambs away to the works off mum, and that was a really good year but only averaging about 16.5kg. Now, with Highlanders and under Primera genetics we’ve been in excess of 1,500 to 1,700 lambs away off mum albeit with a bigger flock and we increased weights last year to 17.5kgs and this year it’s 18kg, it’s been a steady rise.”
The Morrahs have also introduced new pasture management, with a dry climate they aim to farm their way around it by using plantain, chicory and forage crops. “We grow winter crops to feed our twin bearing ewes prior to lambing, maintaining condition of the ewes, feeding lighter ewes better and taking pressure off the grass.” Less competition from breeding stock helps the Morrah’s lamb performance too.
“Our priority is to finish as many lambs as we can between Christmas and late May, then we buy in store lambs and finish them through winter.” All lambs are weaned in the first week of December, with 1,650 going straight to the works. By Christmas Sam had 1,800 lambs on specialty feed: brassicas and plantain/chicory mixes. Those lambs were killed during February with a cut off weight of 42kg. In the past three seasons, including lamb prime off mum, crop fed and winter lambs, the Morrahs have easily hit an average 19.5kg – 20kg.