Why Choose Coopworth Composites?
(by Edward Dinger, ram breeder)
About 12 years ago two MAF scientists asked me to allow them access to my Sheeplan records to do a survey on breeding groups to ascertain the genetic progress breeding groups had made. Although Mid North Coopworth Co had folded some years before, my flock still qualified and I was happy to give my consent. Some ten other breeding groups were involved. Their findings were never officially published, but meeting them a year later at a conference, they congradtulated me on the excellent result that my flock had achieved.
It turned out that MNCC came second on the breeding groups surveyed. The ARDG people will be pleased to know that Rex Alexander's group came first. Happy with that, I studied the figures and was shocked and appalled that over the 10 years the survey spanned there had been on average 1.2% progress per annum. ARDG made 1.3% pa. After that decade of work in recording, tagging, sorting and culling MNCC had made a miserly 12% progress.
Conveying my disappointment to the gentlemen, they told me that I should not be dismayed, that even if everything goes according to plan, the maximum possible progress to be made was approximately 2%. Since there are always outside influences that prevent breeders from picking only the top rams from the selection list and that because there was the extra impediment of FE to contend with, I should be tickled pink.
Far from satisfied, the subject was raised at a meeting with Dr. Clive Dalton and Neil Clarke early in 1990, when I was in charge of organizing the Coopworth conference to be held in Hamilton that year. After my somewhat bitter complaints, Neil Clarke got angry with me (after all he was one of the main developers of the genetic engine of Sheeplan) and he tried to explain how genetic progress works, most of it was over my head. But his last sentence struck and hit me, he said "if you want faster progress, start crossbreeding and use heterosis".
There were not many sheep breeds one could try then, but through my involvement with the Rangiteiki Breeding Group, and as a shareholder of Sheepac, the new exotic breeds of sheep would be released in a years time.
My Dutch background made the Texel my favorite, but in 1992 I was appointed tour leader for a group of 25 New Zealand Texel flock owners to travel to Britain, France and The Netherlands. In Holland we saw Texel/Finn crosses as a breed for the first time. Not only was their physical appearance appealing, their production figures were fantastic. But Texels and Finns were quite expensive in those early years and so in cooperation with another 7 farmers we started to breed Texel Finn crosses.
To record my experiences here and now, with both breeds which later also included the east Friesian and their advantages and drawbacks would take us too far, suffice to say that I discovered that the established NZ breeds also had their good points, particularly a then 12 year advantage in FE tolerance breeding.
In the meantime there were half a dozen different small fully recorded flocks on my farm, which at lambing and mating had to be kept separate, making my farming life complicated and miserable, which possibly made me a grumpy person for my family. So a few years ago, some flocks were amalgamated so that the result would be half Coopworth, quarter East Friesian and one eighth Texel and Finn and sold everthing else - except the pure bred Texels who eliminated themselves through FE.
It is my third year of this now and the results are pretty satisfying. Over the last three years my docking percentage averaged 180%, and in the sire referencing scheme my fleece weights and growth rate are up with the best. It will take some years to make the flock uniform in appearance, but given time we will get there.
In my endeavor to increase the milking ability of my ewes to cope with the increasing amount of triplets, I am possibly overshooting the target a bit. There are ewes now that would be the envy of many a dairy goat farmer, but the lambs have not got used to that genetically - they still seek the nipple higher up and there have been some casualties this year with ewes standing over starved lambs with a huge udder bursting with milk.
All in all the results are pleasing and maybe I got there quicker by including the different breeds. After all the money and time I have spent, let's hope so.
I wish AgResearch had done some trials on these breeds, like they used to, so as to confirm what I have found. But some Coopworth breeders further south are getting similar results with their sheep and have never crossed their sheep with anything. Possibly my sheep are purely expressing their genetic potential for the first time, because the sheep are getting on top of the depressing effects of facial eczema.
My aim to produce an efficient sheep that would be profitable in these Northern regions and could compete with beef has been fulfilled, whether it will stop the decline of sheep numbers is a different question.