April 23, 2014

New Zealand agricultural history. No 29. Importing exotic sheep

Did New Zealand get value for money?
Dr Jock Allison's view 
Bruce Koller's view

By Dr Clive Dalton

Did NZ get value for money?
This is the $64,000 question!  If you sprung this question on most farmers today – most, if they could remember the importations would probably answer – ‘What importations and who cares anyway’?  

For those who can remember, their immediate response would probably be a clear YES, if they have been involved with composite breeds with exotic genes in them, or if they remember all the good things that were pumped out in the media about the great benefits these breeds achieved for the nation. 

But it would be fair to say that the vast majority of sheep farmers never got involved with the exotics and their composites, and didn’t see the need for them as their ‘traditional’ breeds had improved so much under Sheeplan, and became light years ahead of the old models that were rightly heavily criticised.

It would be nice to run a survey of commercial sheep farmers today, to find out if they ever got involved with the exotics or their composites, and if not why not?  It would be pointless asking them if the importations were cost effective, as nobody knows what the cost was and we'll never find out.

Dr Jock Allison’s view 2006

Dr Jock Allison.
Photo: Otago Daily Times
Jock’s views below are from his role of both scientist and business entrepreneur, heavily involved in importations.

·      The imported exotic sheep breeds have been the large part of the renaissance of the sheep industry as we have seen lambing percentages increase from about 100% to 126% since 1993. 

·      Lamb carcass weights have increased from about 13.5kg to 17.5kg which are at levels that meat company executives only a couple of decades ago were adamant were not suited to overseas markets. 

·      East Friesian, Finn and Texel are now all part of composite breeds. The exotic crosses have put additional pressure on the existing ewe breeds, Romney, Coopworth and Perendale which themselves have benefited, with most now much more productive than they were earlier. 
·      The East Friesian and Finn have made mating ewe hoggets a real option for sheep farmers to gain good lambing percentages from these young animals. 
·      Sheep milking has not really taken off, but there are a number of flocks producing milk for cheese making, with one particularly big operation underway in Southland. 
·      In fact the sheep industry has been one of New Zealand’s most successful industries since 1992/3.

 My quick comments on Jock's points
 The renaissance of the sheep industry was already on the way driven by Sheeplan when the exotics arrived, and our breeds didn’t need any pressure from the exotics to get them moving.  

 Today’s carcass needs have changed with the changes in the NZ meat breeds, and ewe hogget mating was going on through improved local breeds, better feeding and better advisory support long before the exotics hit town.

You would have to be dreaming to believe that the importation of the Oxford Down and Texel breeds was the reason why Polled Dorset breeders for example produced sheep like the ones in the photo, taken at a recent Frankton ram sale.  
It was years of performance recording through the National Flock Recording Scheme (NFRS), then Sheeplan and now Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL) that bred sheep like this. And the same comments apply to all the the specialist meat breeds in New Zealand. The imported exotics had nothing to do with this progress! 
Bruce Koller's MAFTech Sheepac view 2014
  • 'Not only was the Sheepac technology-transfer program unique and successful, but also the selling systems developed largely  by Robin Hilson and Richard Bradley. And the influence of the sheep that were sold has been massive.
  • Twenty years on lambing percentages are 130 to 200 percent on commercial farms, and carcase weights of 18 to 20 kg is now the norm , and we produce increased volumes and value of exports, from much reduced sheep numbers; which may be a message for the dairy industry'.

My quick comments on Bruce's points
I would repeat the comments re Jock Allison's comments.  Bruce must have missed what was going on in the sheep industry long before the exotic sheep breeds arrived, and especially in what the NFRS and Sheeplan achieved.

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