Sudeley Genetics Springvale

June 2024

Usingtechnologies for the rapid prediction of livestock performance on farm.

Andrew and Anna Laing run breeding stock and support a large commercial sheep operation on their Banks Peninsula property, ‘Springvale’. Since 2017 they have invested in genomic technology for the stud cows and recorded ewes. 


Genomics enables breeders to see via a tissue sample of DNA what Estimated Breeding Value (EBV) trait that an animal has inherited from its pedigree. EBVs are a tool to enable breeders to compare ‘like with like’, and estimate an animal’s breeding potential, regardless of the environment it is raised in. EBVs derived from genomics rapidly predicts the potential performance and genetic potential of bulls and heifers when they are young, rather than waiting years to have enough progeny on the ground to be confident of the same accuracy of their EBV’s.  


Remnant Totara stand guard over Springvale and the bays of Banks Peninsula like a ghostly troop of old soldiers. It’s a wondrous place, climbing to some of the peninsula’s highest hilltops. It’s also a platform for innovation in genomics – a pointer to future gains in the science of cattle and sheep breeding. 


Andrew and Anna Laing bought the property at Little River a few years ago, becoming the fourth custodians of the iconic 1000ha property in the past 160 years. One of the larger farms left on Banks Peninsula, Springvale is home to Sudeley Angus stud with 350 cows, a large commercial sheep operation and two recorded sheep flocks in support. Andrew and Anna live and farm at Springvale with daughters Harriet & Georgie. From here they also operate Sudeley Genetics, a combination of Angus cattle and maternal and terminal sheep genetics. 


Springvale runs all breeding stock, young-stock and finishing stock are run on another 140ha finishing unit at Irwell, enabling them to be grown out to their potential. 


“For us, farming is about having conformationally correct stock suited to our hill country that year in year out do the ‘grind’. First and foremost, it starts with the fertility traits, cows and ewes must be able to utilise poorer quality pastures here at Springvale, rear a good calf and get back in calf as soon as possible,” Andrew says. 


The steep hillsides offer a good testing ground for the stud’s genetics. For Andrew, it’s about efficiency and breeding on native hill country. “The stud cows have to compete with the commercial and recorded sheep. We don’t have the luxury of calving behind a wire, feeding hay or baleage, or putting in a winter crop. It is all native undeveloped hill and, in my opinion, where Angus cows should be, especially stud cows.” 


Stud cows and ewes need to perform here, they need to be pushed, and mimic the same hill-country environments their progeny is sold into to let the cream rise to the top and be retained in the stud. “It’s why we have such a strong foundation of cows, and therefore their progeny performs well in these same environments for commercial farmers on similar run country.” 


Their progeny is then a by-product of high-quality genetics that have all the genetic potential for growth and carcass attributes to be expressed, if that farming environment allows, Andrew says. 


Through regular genomic testing, the aim is to keep improving their Angus herd without compromising the type. “Quality cows will breed quality offspring; poor cows will breed poor offspring even if you put good bulls over them,” he says. 


The Laings ran their first on-farm Angus bull sale in 2006 and one of their best results was in June 2020, right in the middle of Covid disruption, when they sold their bull Sudeley Viking 18101 for $60,000. “Phenotypically he was a very well-balanced bull and has the performance to match so it’s has been an exciting journey seeing his progeny come through with his first crop of 2yo sons sold in our June 2023 sale.” 


Andrew says results like these give the business confidence to “keep heading in the direction of breeding and producing sires that have all the visual attributes of what we believe are important in a beef herd, but also have all the genetic potential possible to thrive in a variety of farming environments.  


From 2017, Andrew and Anna have invested in genomic technology for the stud cows and recorded ewes. 


Genomics enables breeders to see (via a tissue sample containing DNA) what particular EBV trait that animal has received from its pedigree. “Therefore, the EBVs derived from genomics increases the accuracy for bulls and heifers as to what their performance and genetic potential is predicted to be at a young age, rather than waiting for years to have enough progeny on the ground to build the same accuracy of their EBV’s. 


Genomics is a huge investment, as all calves are sampled at birth. “Genomics enables us to see what is really under the bonnet from these calves rather than waiting until they have many years of calves on the ground to build the picture of their genetic performance,” Andrew says. 


Genomics and parent verification is also used with the recorded ewes, recorded ewes are set stocked for lambing then a tissue sample of DNA is taken at tailing to determine parentage, survivability, birth/rear/rank and then genomics are run. 


“We pride ourselves on honesty and integrity and no bullshit backup service for our bulls and rams. We believe it is our duty as breeders to provide all available science and information to give the most accurate EBV’s we possibly can.” 


Breeders are “really only touching the sides with genomics at the moment,” Andrew says. 

“With feed efficiency, carbon management and environmental restraints that’s coming along in the future, the sheep and beef industry’s going to change significantly.” 


Anna and Andrew bought their first block of land together 22 years ago, going on to sell a farm and buying a bigger property elsewhere on the Banks Peninsula, at Port Levy. After outgrowing that property, Andrew and Anna leased a 6000su farm at Parnassus in North Canterbury, until that lease ended and in 2019, they moved to Springvale on Christchurch-Akaroa Rd. Meantime they’ve maintained their original home-block at Irwell, out on the coastal Canterbury Plains near Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere. It’s a fully irrigated property to fatten all finishing stock.  


They’re running a large, integrated operation across their Little River and Irwell farms, helped by key staff on each property. The two properties complement each other perfectly, enabling the Laings to be in control and maximise market advantage at any given time. 

Like the cattle, the sheep operation is fairly simple across both properties, grounded in about 4500 commercial Romdale ewes but run alongside the Texel/Suftex and Romdale recorded ewes. 


Andrew says they aim to kill as many lambs straight off mum at Springvale as they can, then send the remainder off to Irwell to be grown and killed out there. From there, those animals go straight to the works. Ewe replacements are kept at Springvale and once all lambs are finished at Irwell, the ram hoggets go there to be taken through and prepared for sale in November. The retained heifer calves stay on at Springvale for mating.