Perendale Award Winners

June 2017

Award-winning Perendale genetics and environmental management in Southland

A Southland family has won multiple awards for their Perendale flock and environmental management. Their Perendale sheep are the key to easy management at Green Ridges farm, where snow sometimes covers the ground for weeks, seasons are unpredictable and keeping gorse in check is an ongoing challenge.

Allan and Leeann Woodrow are four-time winners of the Perendale section of the New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition and in 2009, claimed the Sir Geoffrey Peren Cup for the best commercial Perendale flock in their region.

In 2015 they added a Southland Ballance Farm Environment Award to their list of achievements. The Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award recognises wise use of land, labour and capital as well as careful matching of stock to land and attention to animal health. The Woodrows say the prizes recognise two generations of hard work and good business on their property east of Mataura.

Allan’s father, George, bought the gorse and rabbit-infested farm east of Mataura in 1952 and named it Green Ridges. Passed over as unsuitable for settlement of ex-servicemen, the property bankrupted its previous owner.

In his first season George killed over 40,000 rabbits, selling a truckload of skins every week for good money. In 1972, he introduced easy-care Perendale sheep, to lighten the workload as the farm was developed. At the time the breed was hard to source but finally 600 ewes were located and released onto tussock and gorse where in their first season they outperformed the more pampered Romneys.

In 1956 Massey University scientist Sir Geoffrey Peren registered the Perendale breed he developed by putting a Cheviot ram over Romney ewes to create a productive, easy care sheep for all environments.

It took 10 years for George to breed up a Perendale flock through the Romneys. The sheep have continued to impress with their ability to thrive in challenging conditions including snow regularly lying on the ground for days and sometimes weeks. Rainfall is unpredictable, ranging from 1200-1300mm/year in the time Allan’s been farming. One August only 3mm of rain was recorded and in January one year, 240mm fell.

Allan’s full of admiration for his father whose hard work put three sons on farms in the tough Rogernomics era. Two brothers took over properties which had been part of a joint operation and he settled on the home farm in nearby Waikana.

“I class myself as a hobby farmer,” says Allan, who farms with his wife Leeann on 496 hectare (460ha effective) Green Ridges east of Mataura in Southland. “People moan and groan about work but to me, it’s a pleasure.”

The Woodrows’ high performing Perendale flock consistently lambed above 150 per cent, unshepherded. Cattle were traded to maximize pasture management through spring and summer, minimising soil damage in autumn and winter. Hill country had been developed to preserve tussock faces and outcrops. The BFEA judges in the 2015 competition noted these achievements and approaches to farm management.

Green Ridges’ mostly north-lying flat to gentle rolling hill country rises to ridges which drop off sharply to spectacular bluffs. The Waiarikiki Stream doubles its flow between entering and leaving the property, expanding from two to four metres wide.

When George Woodrow took over the farm in 1952 he ran 450 Romney ewes and 150 hoggets. Today the property runs 5000 stock units, comprising 2800 Perendale ewes, 600 hoggets and 45 rams. Another 200 cattle are bought in as autumn calves, and killed the following year between April and May/June.

“Wisdom is that one man can work 2500 stock units,” says Allan. “We can do twice that, mostly because Perendales are such easy care sheep.” Allan says among the breed’s attributes is their resilience to internal parasites. The ewes at Green Ridges have not been drenched for over 20 years. Allan adds, they also produce very tasty meat, with the breed winning Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s Golden Lamb Awards (Glammies) for the Gardyne family of Central Otago last year.

Lambs are the farm’s top earner, accounting for 50-60 per cent of income. Eleven per cent comes from wool, 35 per cent from cattle and the rest from renting out service bulls for following up on artificial insemination of dairy cows, and selling old ewes.

“Our goal with calves is to double our money,” says Allan. “We’ve done it for the last two years but won’t this season because we bought high and the price to the works has gone back.”

Half the in-lamb ewes are pre-lamb-shorn then sent out into the hills and forgotten about until being yarded for tailing starting on October 10. Last year after a 156 per cent tailing, 75 per cent went straight to the works off their mothers. That year’s crop weighed an average 19.87kg with a January 20 mean killing date.

“While everyone else around here is out on a lambing beat, we are developing young grass paddocks,” says Allan.

Ewes are scanned and anything carrying twins goes into an A mob for breeding Perendale replacements. Any with singles will live out their days in a B mob, joining ewes that failed to raise a lamb or meet Allan’s standards. There are no second chances.

For 40 years, Perendale rams have been sourced from Warren Ayers’ Kamahi stud, visible from the top of the Woodrows’ farm. “The goal is to get rams from a farm with worse winter conditions than ours,” says Allan. Last year was one out of the box with only two days with snow on the ground but the year before was the worst with 32 days.

The B mob – roughly one third of the flock - is mated with Suff-Tex rams from Central Otago breeder Robert Gardyne.

About half the hoggets go to the ram, at 57kg plus last year, then run on swedes through winter. Being in lamb keeps hoggets at a manageable size for shearers. And despite no shepherding, they raised some terrific lambs last (2016/2017) season, says Allan.

Tails are left on black-faced, single and hogget lambs, destined for the works rather than breeding and all ram lambs are left entire. Leaving tails on is an idea Allan got off an old drafter. It not only saves about $1/head but it avoids upsetting lambs and causing a growth check at a critical time, when growth rates peak as their mothers reach the height of lactation.

Allan’s in the process of shifting shearing from pre-lamb to autumn, when it’s easier to keep sheep dry. Fleeces weigh in at about 6kg on average, well up on early weights as genetics have moved on.

Perendale wool is strong at 37-38 microns but it has good colour, being a bright white, and it bounces back well when squeezed, says Allan.

Cattle work peaks as sheep work slows down on the farm. Mostly Charolais and Hereford X cross calves are bought in then vaccinated and de-horned in May for sale as steers and bulls, 10-12 months later.  

“For the same labour input and a bit more tucker we are getting a much bigger animal from Charolais and bulls,” says Allan.

The easiest money Allan says he ever made came from leasing out service bulls to follow up on artificially inseminated dairy cows on the farm next door, then chasing them back through the gate six weeks later.

Gorse, which once covered 80 per cent of the farm, can now be controlled with a hand-gun. Helicopter spraying with Tordon broke the back of the problem in the 1970s when up to 800 litres of the chemical was stockpiled in paddocks.

The farm is subdivided into paddocks of generally 14-17.5 hectares. They top to get rid of seed-heads and thistly patches sheep don’t want to eat. Quality pasture is cut in February and baled by a contractor.

“Clover is king,” says Allan, who prefers natural fertility to nitrogen out of bags, which he’d like to see banned so livestock numbers would drop, reducing pressure on soils and waterways. Superphosphate is used on farm, with 80% spread by truck, as well as serpentine for magnesium, selenium and cobalt.  

Six kilometres of Waiarikiki Stream winds through the farm, doubling in volume from one end of the other. Ballance Environment Awards judges noted that 15 years ago the family removed all willows with a digger and sprayed stumps to stop them regenerating. Flax plants have since been planted and seven duck ponds created, five doubling as sediment traps in heavy rain. Native vegetation has been left in gullies, on hilltops and south facing slopes with more shelter planted. Tussocks are valued as lambing shelter.

A nice touch on this winter-cold property is heated dog kennels, warmed with electric units made by Invercargill lamb warmer manufacturer Hecton Products. “The dogs love it. I can even leave the kennel doors open all day in the winter. They don’t go far,” Allan says.

With two teenage children, the Woodrows have added scope for succession by buying an equity share in 1338 ha Judge Creek at nearby Moa Flat, four years ago. Equity partners, Paul and Ruth Winterbourne, farm the property, which supplies Green Ridges with 75% of its calves each year.