ARDG – the ‘perfect form of socialism’

ARDG - the ‘perfect form of socialism’
Pakaraka Farm’s Ross and Gilly Alexander.

Advanced Romney Designer Genetics (ARDG) is celebrating over 50 years of success in typical Kiwi fashion.
“As a family we’ve been farming for over 100 years.
When you go farming you’re in it for the long haul anyway so we don’t get overly excited about things like this.  We did go out and have a drink though,” says Ross Alexander.
ARDG was formed in 1968 out of a desire to produce an easy care sheep with increased animal production and profitability. The group includes a number of farming families – some related to the Alexanders and some not. Ross describes ARDG as the “perfect form of socialism”.
“We are all independent breeders but share our genetics freely for no cost. We swop sires each year to try and breed the perfect sheep for the top of the North Island,” he says.
It’s been a formula for success and has seen ARDG produce some of the top Romney genetics in the country.
In particular they have had success with breeding sheep resistant to facial eczema.
Techniques to increase tolerance have improved over the years from the early days where they simply saw which sheep did not survive to more advanced testing to increase genetic gains.
They currently use Zoetis Sheep50K SNP testing, which helps identify 21 different breeding trait values in their lambs.
They have had a 600% increase in sporidesmin figures over the years and have been testing for this trait for the longest time of any other breeder in New Zealand.
Worm resilience/tolerance is another genetic target along with the usual traits desired in a good Romney such as dag free, good feet and fast growing.
“We’ve been targeting FEC worm tolerance since the early 2000s and have made great strides. I haven’t drenched a ewe for 25 years now. It’s another thing in the toolbox to make sheep farming an easier job.”
The Alexanders first started farming in the early 1900s when Ross’ great grandfather arrived from Scotland.
Ross’s parents Rex and Marion owned a 160ha farm at Pukekohe where Ross grew up.
It was too small to support both Ross and brother Lloyd, both working as shearers, who were keen on farming.
So they convinced their parents to sell up and purchase Pakaraka farm at Okoroire near Matamata.
Today the family business includes Pakaraka, 375ha (about a third is lease land), run by Ross and Gilly, and Mt Damper Station, 1000ha, run by Lloyd and his wife Rebecca.
Pakaraka which comprises 1400 breeding ewes, 130-140 dairy grazers and 30 breeding cows.
The farm takes 250 ram hoggets through winter for stud sales and 1100 ewe hoggets of which they sell 600 as breeding two tooths.
Around 70 Angus one year heifers also head to Pakaraka from Mt Damper to be fatttened. Around 300 of the Romney ewes are recorded.
Mt Damper farms 4000 ewes, 200 angus cows and replacements.
Ross says now that he has had a long and successful farming career a focus is on giving back.
He is part of FE Gold, a group of farmers whose goal is to produce a brand that protects the investment that sheep breeders have made into facial eczema (FE) while providing greater clarity to the ram buyer in regard to facial eczema genetics.
He has also been involved with the Red Meat Profit Partnership and is on the SIL advisory panel.
“A farm is a business and we enjoy the lifestyle. I’ve got a passion for farming but life comes first. I work to live not live to work and that’s one important piece of advice I’d pass on to the next generation.”
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