Breeding for resilience key objective
Set in the South Canterbury foothills just north of Geraldine, Orari Gorge is one of the oldest stations in the country.
It was established in 1856 by the Tripp family, and is now managed by Robert Peacock, a direct descendant of the Tripp family through his mother, Rosa Peacock. She and her husband, Graham, still play an active part on the farm.
With 4300 hectares – consisting of river flats at 230 metres above sea level, rolling clay downs at 300-450 metresm and tussock country rising to 1066 metres – it is considered very summer safe country.
Orari Gorge station runs 23,000 stock units – 50 per cent sheep, 25% cattle and 25% deer.
Breeding sheep for performance, testing and challenging the stock under pressure are key objectives for the station, which has 900 fully recorded stud romneys and 250 fully recorded stud romtex ewes lambing each year.
“They’re run under very much the same principles and mostly run together,” says Robert. “The ram lambs and ewe lambs are grazed separately with the romtex and romney ram lambs grazed as one mob.”
“We’re selling about 250 two-tooth rams each year. But we use about 100 ram hoggets on our own commercial ewes and then they’re for sale with the rest of the two-tooths.”
Robert says the commercial ewes running on the hill country are the station’s biggest clients. He says that whereas for some people, looks or figures might be the key, Orari Gorge Station aims for both.
Looks, in the sense of structure and conformation, and figures, in the sense of strong performance. Proven performance/production, especially under pressure, is the key to profitability.
In the commercial environment, the station’s stud ewes are wintered out on the hill, come down for lambing, and are constantly under a high worm challenge.
In a summer-safe landscape ideal for worms, Robert places big emphasis on breeding for both resilience and resistance to worms and against dags.
“We’re building resilience and resistance to worms by challenging the lambs. The resistance is all about the egg count on the ground. So a worm-resistant ram will have a low egg output.
Resilience has nothing to do with egg-output – it’s all about how much they are growing when you know they’re under high worm burden. We try to achieve both resilience and resistance.”
Robert says that building resistance or resilience to worms is partly to reduce cost but, more importantly, worms are getting harder to control with chemicals.
He says worms have already been identified that are resistant to the new drench family that came out only a few years ago.
“If we found out next year that all the drenches were useless, the sheep industry would be on its knees really.
“It would take a long time to resolve. Genetics certainly works, but it’s a slow process. So we’re doing it now and have been for some while, partly to reduce cost and labour, but also to be prepared if the drenches fail or if the markets say we can’t use them.”
At the same time Robert is trying to breed in resistance to dags by identifying those sheep that have a lot fewer dags than others, and breeding from those genetics, to reduce workload on the station..