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Group of sheep breeders running parasite resistant stock

A group of leading sheep breeders have formed WormFEC Gold to show farmers that breeding for parasite resistant genetics will strengthen flocks and save time and money on-farm.

Growing concerns from farmers around increasing levels of drench resistance, rising farming input costs, and issues getting farm labour have prompted 10 WormFEC breeders from across New Zealand to join forces. The breeders’ group brings together more than 200 years combined experience breeding highly productive, parasite resistant rams.

Chairman Robert Peacock of Orari Gorge Station in South Canterbury said the WormFEC Gold group aims to show farmers that breeding sheep for parasite resistance is achievable and will save farmers time and money. He said breeding animals with natural resistance to parasites is part of the long-term sustainable solution for parasite management.

He said farmers who focus their breeding program on parasite resistance would strengthen their flock with animals that required less drench, reducing the risk of drench resistance and increasing farm profitability. What’s more, having parasite resistant stock reduces workload.

Reducing on-farm costs is essential for farmers as they face increasing economic pressure. The Sainsbury’s FECPAKG2 Project (2014 - 2017) showed the average NZ sheep farmer producing 5,000 lambs can lose up to $75,000 annually due to reduced lamb growth rates from using a drench that does not work. Best practice parasite management alongside a focus on breeding for parasite resistance, can reduce drench usage and is key to avoiding this problem and the associated loss of income.

He says breeders can select stock for parasite resistance using PhenR and WormFEC through service provider Techion. Farmers who want the guarantee of parasite resistant rams to incorporate these genetics into their flock can find WormFEC Gold breeders on SIL.

“Sheep can be labour intensive to farm and some farmers are bringing lambs in every three weeks to drench as well as drenching adult ewes. With a parasite resistant flock, drenching could be reduced to only once or twice in a lamb’s life, which is a huge saving in time and cost for a farmer. It's a massive reduction in workload for farmers who are looking for ways to improve their lifestyle and profitability,” Robert said.

Gordon Levet, a WormFEC Gold member with 31 years experience breeding parasite-resistant sheep, said when enough ram breeders are breeding sheep with a high degree of parasite resistance then we will see an impact on the national flock. For individual farmers this will mean savings in labour and costs because they won’t need to drench as often – and for some, possibly never.

He believed it was the right time to improve education for New Zealand sheep farmers as a number of factors make breeding for parasite resistance vital. Climate change and more humid conditions mean that parasite populations have increased and the danger period for sheep has been extended. Flocks are more susceptible to internal parasites because drenching programmes are leading to the development of drench resistant parasites. On top of this, global consumers are demanding fewer chemicals in the food chain, so it’s vital that New Zealand farmers meet the market.

Robert Peacock continued; “International and domestic markets are expressing increased concern about the security of their supply chain and consumers are demanding fewer chemicals in their food. There is no overnight fix for creating a parasite resistant flock, so even if it takes a decade for supermarket chains to demand drench free animals we need to start work with our sheep genetics now. Parasite resistance is a heritable trait that can be introduced into the national flock if all breeders and farmers work together, record their genetics and use drench accordingly”, he said.

“Even without a change imposed by international supermarkets, this change is essential for the farmer not looking to drench every three weeks for the rest of their working life - breeding parasite resistance into sheep has a huge benefit for them by reducing their work.”

“For years our members have been breeding for parasite resistance using WormFEC,” he said. WormFEC evaluates the natural parasite resistance of rams through the New Zealand sheep industry’s performance recording and genetic evaluation database – Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL). The SIL database uses faecal egg count (FEC) data to generate estimated breeding values (EBV’s), so they can rank and selectively breed stock with superior genetics. Collectively, WormFEC Gold members have taken over 65,000 FEC samples, with an average of 300 FEC samples each per year. Members work closely with Techion, providers of the PhenR and WormFEC service as well as AgResearch, who established WormFEC in 1994 and provide science guidance to the WormFEC Gold group.

The WormFEC Gold members are: Gordon Levet, Kikitangeo, Northland; Peter Moore, Moutere Downs, Tasman; Andrew Tripp, Nithdale, Southland; Robert Peacock, Orari Gorge, Canterbury; Graeme Maxwell, Longview, Hawkes Bay; Kate Broadbent, Nikau, Waikato; Allan Richardson, Avalon, Otago; Alastair Reeves, Waimai, Waikato; Forbes Cameron, Ngaio Glen, Manawatu; and Ross Alexander, Makino, Waikato. Their farms from Southland to Northland range in size from 600 to 4,000+ hectares and breed the majority of commercial breeds; Romney, Romney/Texel, Perendale, Coopworth, Texel and Composite.

Find out more about the WormFEC Gold group at www.wormfecgold.com

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