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Decades of development behind leading Perendale stud

Decades of development behind leading Perendale stud
Howie Gardner (middle) with Awakiki Ridges’ top priced ram ($8600) this year at Gore.

After decades of development and expansion, South Otago sheep and beef farmers Howie and Marion Gardner believe their 1350-hectare property is in a good place.

The generational family farm, Awakiki Ridges, is located in Puerua Valley on mostly rolling to steep terrain about 20 kilometres inland from the northern Catlins coast.

The property has 200 hectares each of production exotic and indigenous forest.

The Gardner’s bought a neighboring 900ha farm twelve years ago. Their original 200ha property, Rosemains, was sold two years ago in response to a change in family circumstances.

“We nearly doubled the size of the operation in 2006. We were running about 6000 stock units and we went to 11,500 and now we’re back to 9000,” Howie says.

While he quips the motivation was “because it was there”, there were plenty of practical reasons for the 2006 purchase. Aspect, balance, staff housing and a big improvement in operational efficiency were some of the benefits on offer.

Now, stock manager Tom Duckworth and shepherd Mark Calder ably oversee the day-to-day operation which has allowed Howie to reduce his involvement and to focus more on things like the sheep stud operation. Awakiki Perendales is a leading stud flock as measured by genetic merit.

Not only this, but in January this year at the Gore South Island ram fair, the Gardner’s achieved a top price of $8600, the highest price paid of any breed at the sale.

Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) cross-flock genetic trends graphs show Awakiki Ridges is well above the national flock average in overall maternal worth.

National flock (all breeds) averages sit at 1450 while Awakiki are currently at at 2050. “Most of the sires used this year are close to or exceed 3000 index points, so some further turbo effect can be expected.”

Five hundred fully recorded stud perendale ewes are run with the 5500 commercial ewes. Typically 70 rams are sold on-farm each year.

While the number of ewes may seem high given the ram sales, Howie is keen to preserve numbers to maintain selection pressure, and even allow some selection risks to be taken.

The advent of electronic tags, scales with readers and a customised data logger allows larger numbers of animals to be fully recorded. These developments greatly reduce labour requirements.

To maximize genetic gains the Gardner’s are involved in a group-breeding scheme with West Otago studs Gowan Braes, owned by Mike McElrae and Hazeldale, owned by Richard and Kerry France.

Decades of development behind leading Perendale stud

The Awakiki Ridges team (from left): Mark Calder (shepherd), Tom Duckworth (stock manager) and Marion and Howie Gardner. Moving the mob in rolling to steep terrain in the Puerua Valley, inland from the Catlins. Spring lambs on the ground.

“They also bring in carefully selected industry sires on a regular basis. This year’s lineup includes a ram out of the Hinerua flock, Southland and another out of the Snowdon flock, Canterbury.”

Awakiki Ridges perendales has been part of the national Worm FEC program for 20 years.

Howie says, generally Perendales have good levels of parasite resistance, but the Gardner’s do strike the odd sire or bloodline that is unacceptable. Rather than selecting for high levels of parasite resistance those with low levels are not considered.

The breed’s reputation as an easy care, hardy sheep suited to a wide range of terrain is matched by its excellent performance on Awakiki Ridges clients’ properties.

For two of their clients, Duncan and Claire Smith in the Pigroot, North Otago, and the Shanks family in the Chaslands, the differences in climate are extreme. “These guys are achieving exceptional results, which is very satisfying as a stud breeder”.

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