SheepMaster breed offers environmental plus productivity benefits
Esk Valley farmers with their own take on innovative Australian breed
A recently developed Australian shedding sheep is making its first impact in New Zealand, with an on-farm sale scheduled for 16 November at a property that is pioneering the breed.
Dean and Antoinette Martin farm 244 hectare Glenlands Farm, in Esk Valley, Hawkes Bay, which has been in Dean’s family since 1970. Aligning with their philosophy on sustainable management, after some breed experimentation they have now decided to commit fully to the SheepMaster, as Dean explains.
“We set out to improve the farm financially, and also to improve soils and stock welfare. In 2019 due to the significant long term wool price decrease while labour unit costs associated with wool have increased dramatically, we started the move from wool sheep to shedding sheep. We wanted to spend more time on grazing management and our ecological systems rather than animal remedies. These are all external costs that can be reduced and eliminated if soils and ecological systems work efficiently,” he says.
Starting with Wiltshires, they also experimented with Australian Whites, seeking to improve pre-Christmas growth rates and increase their percentage of lambs sent off farm before Christmas, maximising financial gain while reducing stock before summer.
Although those experiments went well, the SheepMaster breed was the big breakthrough.
“We imported SheepMaster semen in September 2021. Although covid delayed our plans and we only managed to inseminate our ewes last year, we have already found the SheepMaster better, with better feet and worm resistance,” says Dean.
A composite breed aiming for more muscle and less fat, SheepMaster is a trademark registered meat sheep, incorporating genetics from African, Israeli and European sheep. West Australian Neil Garnett, formerly Australia’s most successful Merino breeder, built a reputation for harnessing technology and innovation to change the wool industry before spending more than 30 years breeding the wool off sheep, launching SheepMaster in 2017.
SheepMaster incorporates genetics from Damara, Dorper, Van Rooy, Finn, East Fresian, Kojak, Ultrawhite and White Suffolk, with favourable traits for fertility, walkability, productivity, and early maturity among others, while also being capable of aseasonal breeding.
After two breeding seasons, Dean Martin is convinced SheepMaster is the future for Glenlands.
“Breeding from the hoggets, we scanned 98 per cent this year, which considering the disruption to our faming system caused by the cyclone, was a good outcome. Although we had a few dries, we had a higher percentage of twins than the breeds we previously trialled.
“SheepMaster is a shedding sheep, without compromising early growth. We found Wiltshires to be low input, though in dry areas we need early growth to get the lambs away early,” says Dean.
Their trials include on other farms.
“We leased a handful of our SheepMaster rams out and sold some hoggets. So far the lambs have done well and the feedback is good. Although they are born small, they are on their feet quickly and grow fast. Their extra growth prior to Christmas compares favourably to our Texel ewes.”
In the quest for a breed that will thrive in their Esk Valley environment, the Martins say SheepMaster shows plenty of promise.
“Not having to dip them for fly, reducing our drenches, those are important steps, though the overall objective is to find a sheep that will fit our environment. Trying to change the environment to meet the needs of the animal is too difficult. Breeding the animal to suit that environment is the challenge."
“Although it’s still early, with the diverse background of different breeds that went into it, SheepMaster looks likely to be the answer. While we will probably retain some Wiltshire genetics, and we are not too sure where the balance of breeds will end up, the philosophy behind the SheepMaster in Australia fits with our approach, and we think we can develop our own version that will do what we need it to on our farm,” says Dean.
On 16 November Glenlands will offer around 30 rams and two tooths at an on-farm hybrid sale where bidr® will also be present, providing purchasers from throughout the country the opportunity to buy and test the hair sheep genetics Dean and Antoinette Martin are focused on developing.
See our upcoming auctions here.
Check out Glendands website here.