Innovation, technology, science keep Kelso brand at the cutting edge

Innovation, technology, science keep Kelso brand at the cutting edge
Hamish and Kelly Bibby with family Amy, Leah, Katie and Dylan.

Hamish Bibby wakes up every morning with a spring in his step because he knows something exciting is brewing. There always is.
You see, when you’re at the forefront of sheep genetics, and the technology involved with that, you’re always one step ahead of the flock and know the breakthroughs before anyone else.
That’s a good reason to get out of bed in the morning and Hamish gets a real kick out of reading stories from the media on the latest developments when, for him, it’s old news.
Alongside the Marshall and Holden families, the Bibby family co-own Kelso Genetics Ltd, a family-based operation thats origins can be traced back to the 1970s when Roger Marshall pioneered composite sheep breeding.
The Kelso breeding programme is based on Hamish and his wife Kelly’s 500ha family farm, dubbed Lunesdale, in Central Hawke’s Bay. Comprised of steep hill country, Kelso sheep are not only bred for purpose but they’re built for purpose.
“Our ewes are all grazed in mob-like situations as they would be on a commercial farm. They are all treated like commercial animals, the only difference is we DNA them at docking time and we have full profiles on all of them. We don’t pamper them, there’s 3400 ewes here at the moment, so you can’t prioritise one over another.”
The Kelso brand has been built around innovation, it is not known for its ‘traditional’ approach,  “We have always been early adopters of the latest breeds, every time science or technology changes, we move with it.
We are at the leading edge of progressive breeding.” Providing accurate pedigree and genetic benchmarking for clients is a big part of that. “We are currently using full-fl ock genomics which has only recently become available at an economic price and we are among the first to adopt that.”
They’re working on creating the “wagyu” of the sheep industry, searching for meat quality traits in their terminals.
“We are working in the field of identifying and introducing intramuscular fat to all the lambs across the terminal side,” research through Agresearch Invermay that they’ve been involved with for the past five years. This is the work that keeps Hamish hooked and it’s never-ending, – there is always room for improvement.
“The sky is never the limit,” he says. Introducing new traits in a balanced approach is always on the horizon.
They’re now able to take their foot off the gas when it comes to fertility and they’ve reached the peak of where they need to be in growth – both well above the national average.
“We are now concentrating on smaller sheep that grow faster, rather than growth alone,” as well as making sure their ewes are naturally carrying a bit more fat.
“Sheep in NZ have become too lean so we are making an effort to change that,” and are improving health traits such as FE tolerance and worm resistance at the same time.
Hamish says “the next big one” for Kelso is working on reducing emissions from their flock by using genetics to breed sheep that produce less methane from their grass diets.
“Farmers have got to reduce emissions by 2050, that will be the next thing to add to the package of what a Kelso is.”
Every year, Kelso undergoes a strategic review undertaken by Dunedin’s Abacusbio to ensure they are focusing their efforts in the right areas. They also take advantage of their breeding software, ANIMATE, to improve their genetic diversity and reduce the risk of inbreeding.
Abacusbio are renowned for utilising world-class scientific research to improve systems and products which is well-suited to Kelso’s innovative approach. Their work with Abacusbio instills confidence that Kelso can continue to lead the way in genetics  but isn’t enough on its own to keep Kelso ahead of the 8 ball.
They are consistently involved in leading progeny trials, contribute regularly to R&D, take part in the biennial Lambex conference in Australia and have close connections with breeders across the ditch as well.
Kelso runs both maternal and terminal breeding programmes. Clients seek Kelso because they know they will get a high performance sheep with the recording to back them.
Their rams are sold predominantly in the North Island but can be found as far down as Southland. Their maternal side’s base breed is predominantly romney and coopworth with traces of their early use of Finn-texel.
“They had very high fertility from the Finn. We haven’t used Finn in a long time but the best of those genes are still there, leaving us with good lambing percentages,” Hamish says.   The terminal side is predominantly a texel, suffolk cross with a little bit of Poll dorset used over the years.
Hamish has been involved with Kelso for more than a decade and he is still amazed with the potential for growth in this area. It’s clearly a passion and a passion that is already getting picked up by the next generation.
His eldest of four children, son Dylan, at the age of 15 already has his own breeding flock and has been breeding for a number of years, winning two Supreme Championships at the Royal A&P show. His wife Kelly enjoys lending a hand when she isn’t juggling family life as well.
“ Everyone is involved,” Hamish proudly admits, “The kids all understand what we are doing and they pipe up with little ideas all the time and it can be quite interesting to hear what they have to say and how they see things.”
The ideas from his children aren’t just dismissed either. It’s important to the Kelso brand to hear fresh ideas no matter where they come from. Kelso’s clients have an expectation to be provided with top performing genetics and to remain at the top Kelso will always ‘Listen, Think and Innovate.’
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