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Family looks back on 60 years of innovation

Family looks back on 60 years of innovation
Matakanui Station’s 9700ha carries 19,200 fine wool Polwarths and around 1000 Hereford cattle.

Merino sheep first roamed the hills of Matakanui in the 1860s under the watchful eye of early run holder George Thomson, who could never have guessed what advances in farming lay ahead for this slice of Otago high country.

Recent developments have included a shift towards more efficient pivot irrigation and much improved management of footrot through tagging and testing.

Since 1958, the station has been owned and managed by the Paterson family; Jim Paterson purchased the land that year and then, a decade later, Martin and Hilary Paterson took it over. Current owners Andrew and Tracy Paterson were next to take the reins in 2014.

They are managing 8700 hectares of high country tussock land and pasture, stocked by 19,200 fine wool Polwarths (including stud ewes and rams) and around 1000 Hereford cattle.

The Paterson family’s strong focus on performance recording, dating back to 1979, has produced an award winning stud and flock.

Martin and Hilary sourced many of their top rams from Australia and for many years Hilary recorded all the genetic information by hand.

Today, Tracy keeps on top of Matakanui’s stud records using a cloudbased programme called Macrostock and every animal is tagged and tracked through electronic identification (EID).

“We’ve been using Macrostock since 2011 and it has been really good,” Tracy says. “Every stud lamb is coded and tagged into our system at birth and the majority are then EID tagged at tailing.”

That coding system makes it much easier to keep track of bloodlines, eliminating any risk of inbreeding within the stud. Detailed records are also generated from shearing when fleece weights are measured and samples taken to assess wool quality.

Every stud sheep gets a new set of data from shearing every year and any changes in micron and other wool traits are tracked. Ram hoggets undergo genetic testing for footrot, cold tolerance and other factors.

“All the information gets loaded into the computer. We’re recording data all the time. The data then gets sent to Merino Select in Australia a few times a year and comes back as estimated breeding values (EBVs).”

Additionally, the station brings a sheep classer over from Kangaroo Island, Australia every March to run an expert eye over their animals.

Andrew and Tracy have been working with Merino New Zealand on a project to develop an estimated breeding value (EBV) for footrot. This project is on track to provide ram breeders with a new tool to predict an animal’s genetic resistance to footrot.

It is an exciting development for Andrew and Tracy, who have been very successful in their ongoing drive to reduce footrot at Matakanui.

Large-scale irrigation from 2015 has also paid dividends for the station, with 130 hectares now under pivot.

Matakanui Polwarths are proven show champions over many years, sparking stud sales not just domestically but also to the United States and South America. The station’s fine wool and quality lamb tradition is looking secure going forward.

A 10 year contract has been signed with Icebreaker and the station has a strong lamb supply relationship with Silere.

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