Rural round-up


Drought unlikely to trigger recession – James Weir:

The summer drought is likely to have the economy knocked backwards in the June quarter, possibly down 0.2 per cent, though there is no risk of a slide into recession, economists say.

While the official figures will be “unflattering” for the economy, after subdued growth of just 0.3 per cent in the March quarter, there should be a strong bounce in the September quarter forecasters say.

Official figures for economic growth are due on Thursday. They are expected to show the full damage from a slump in milk production and a drop in livestock slaughter numbers, after a spike up earlier in the year because of the drought. . .

Windy weather creates lambing headaches – Tim Cronshaw:

Gale-force winds have made life difficult for newborn lambs, and hill country farmers have their fingers crossed that the good luck for lambing on the Canterbury Plains lasts for them.

The lambing beat officially starts today for the hill and high country, and farmers there have watched lambs in the down country come through with a good run.

Survival rates have been high so far, although some mismothering was expected as a result of last Tuesday’s howling nor’westers, preventing lambs from moving and seeking warmth from ewes. . .

No evidence tail docking detrimental:

Preliminary findings of research into tail docking by Alliance Group have found that leaving a lamb’s tail longer or intact has no long-term beneficial or detrimental effect on its growth rate.

The southern-based company has just completed the first year of a three-year study.

Tail docking is common practice among New Zealand farmers. It is thought to help reduce dag formation and the risk of fly strike, a major cost to the sheep industry. However, to date there has been little objective information or research on the benefits, or otherwise, of the practice. . .

Fonterra has big plans for China – Dene Mackenzie:

Fonterra Co-operative Group has played down the implications of the whey contamination scare as it pushes ahead with a plan to double its milk production in China.

Although the world’s largest milk exporter identified some shortcomings in processes during the review, the co-operative says its staff on most occasions acted conscientiously on new information, and generally sought to do the right thing. . .

Need to enshrine horse heritage – Sally Rae:

Department of Conservation policies need to ensure that high country horse heritage is remembered, fostered and supported, horse-trekking enthusiasts say.

The High Country Pleasure Riders group, which was established in 1999 and is the largest horse-trekking club in the South Island, has made submissions to Doc’s draft conservation management strategies in both Canterbury and Otago.

The club has an annual calendar of weekend horse treks throughout the high country, often traversing public conservation land. . .

200% good start to lambing


We’re lambing again for the first time in about 12 years.

The first ewe to deliver produced twins which gives us a 200% start to lambing.

However, with 10,999 more ewes to lamb the odds of maintaining that percentage are tiny.

Lamb drop up


The national lamb flock increased  6.2% this spring  Meat and Wool NZ’s tailing survey shows.

A total of 28.95 million lambs were tailed this year, 1.7 million more than last spring when numbers reached a 51 year low.

North Island lamb numbers were up 9.1 per cent (1.1 million head) to 13.15 million head. South Island lamb numbers were up 4.0 per cent (0.60 million head) to 15.80 million head

Fewer ewes were put to the ram but good stock condition and generally favourable weather resulted in more multiple births and better lamb survival.

We had a 123 percent lambing nationally. This was 10.5 percentage points better than last season’s 111.1% when drought affected fertility. 

An increase in the conception rate for ewes, plus good weather conditions in early lambing led to excellent lamb survival boosting the number of lambs tailed.

The export lamb slaughter for 2009-10 is estimated to be 23.5 million head. This is an increase of 4.4% on last season and represents one million more lambs available for slaughter. However, some of these lambs will be retained for replacements to make up for the drop in stock numbers last season.

New season lambs have been receiving similar prices as last season. However farmers are expecting the price to fall off rapidly after the Christmas export trade due to the strength of the dollar.

Last season gave a welcome boost in returns for sheep meat but while international demand is strong it is not expected to translate into prices which are high enough to compensate for the relatively high value of our currency.

In praise of pet lambs


Lambing used to be the busiest and most satisfying time on our farming calender. But since we changed from breeding to finishing stock several years ago it is now just something we observe over other people’s fences.

It wasn’t easy and I don’t miss the bad seasons when wet and cold weather proved too much for new-born animals and the slink piles mounted up at gates. But I do miss the pets.

I had occasional contact with pet lambs as a child during visits to farms when we town kids delighted in feeding orphans but it wasn’t until I spent a year on Great Mercury Island that I had one of my own. 

The first was so frail when rescued she couldn’t even bleat. I called her Hush. It was a name which was not without irony when she regained her voice and made good use of it under my window at dawn.

The next orphan I adopted was the ugliest lamb I’ve ever seen but what he lacked in looks was more than compensated for by character. He loved people and whenever he heard voices he’d turn up to share the action.

Unfortunately he had no respect for privacy or property and came to an untimely end after wandering into a farm worker’s house once too often.

When I married my farmer several years later easy-care lambing had been introduced on the theory that mortality was lower when sheep were left to their own devices than when disturbed by people. Some strays still turned up at home to be warmed and fed but as soon as they were fit enough they were taken back to the paddock to be mothered-up with ewes whose own lambs had died.

However, easy-care lambing or not one of the pleasures of growing up on a farm is having a pet lamb so once our daughter was old enough to look after one we adopted an orphan each spring.

How long they stayed after weaning depended on the strength of fences separating farm and house because once a pet found its way into the garden it would be banished to the back paddock.

But Rainbow was an exception, partly because by the time she arrived a stone wall provided a sheep-proof barrier between the lamb paddock and the garden but also because she was special.

Rainbow turned up with several other orphans and from the start she stood out from the flock. There was something about her appearance and behavior that told us this was no ordinary lamb.

If it’s possible for a sheep to have personality then Rainbow did. She was gregarious, engaging and great company. When we were in the garden which bordered her patch or at the clothesline over her fence Rainbow would appear and greet us with a friendly “baa”.                                                                       

A veteran of four school pet shows she had an impressive collection of awards including winner of the lead and drink race and the fancy dress competition. She also performed for visitors, answering to her name when called, taking food from our hands and posing for photos like a professional.

Maternity complications in her third spring nearly proved fatal but despite my farmer muttering about “dragging a vet out to a pet sheep”, professional care from one who happened to be attending a cow on the property at the time ensured she pulled through and delivered a healthy lamb.

The new mother, her lamb and Cecil, the previous year’s pet, formed a happy trio until one day when, to our great distress, we discovered Rainbow dead in the paddock.

There were other lambs in subsequent springs but none has been quite like Rainbow.

Horses’ birthday


The climate doesn’t always co-operate with the calendar about the first day of spring, however whatever the weather, September 1 is the official birthday of all race horses.

Calving starts down here in early August so that’s well through. Lambing starts a couple of weeks later and those downland farms which still have sheep now also have lambs.

[Update: A comment from Steve below tells me I’m a month late – August 1st is the horses’ birthday in the southern hempisphere.]

Winter’s white


It’s been a long time coming but winter is finally here – we had a cold weekend and a hard frost yesterday. Although it was sunny all day the ground was still frozen in the shady areas by late afternoon.

We woke up to a starry sky this morning and we’ve got another good frost. However, touch wood, the water is still running in the house taps and again there’s not a cloud in the sky so it looks like we’re in for another sunny day.

In Uruguay winter doesn’t officially begin until the mid-June solstice. Seasons don’t fit neatly into a calendar – we can get warm days in winter and cold days in summer, but it’s not unusual for us to get our coldest temperatures from July – and of course there is almost always a storm in time for lambing and calving in August.

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