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Breeding for parasite resistance important

WormFEC Gold a collective of farmers breeding for parasite resistant genetics are leading the pack as drench resistance becomes more prevalent and drench failure is reported across the country.

Ten breeders across New Zealand have joined forces creating WormFEC Gold bringing together more than 200 years combined experience breeding highly productive, parasite resistant rams. The aim of their breeding programme – verified by Sheep Improvement Ltd (SIL) – is to strengthen flocks and save farmers time and money by reducing the number of times flocks need to be drenched. As a group they work collaboratively to improve parasite resistant stock genetics and educate farmers about the value of including parasite résistance in stock selection decisions.

Kate Broadbent – one of the founding WormFEC Gold breeders – whose flock of Nikau Coopworth is in the Waikaretu Valley, says long established parasite resistant genetics in her flock mean drench has not been used on ewes since 2002.

“The advantage of not using drench on ewes is a significant time and labour saving - as well as not having to pay for drench it also provides significant refugia, helping avoid drench resistance”, Kate Broadbent says.

She says her farm isn’t organic and where necessary she will drench lambs. However, she is committed to ‘responsible use of the drench families to prolong their working life’.

North Waikato farmer and veterinarian, Jeremy Leigh who purchases breeding rams from Kate Broadbent believes drench resistance is ‘growing at an alarming rate’.

Jeremy Leigh – who is also a Wormwise facilitator – has been buying stock bred for parasite resistance from Kate Broadbent for ten years and from of Nikau Coopworth’s former owners before that.

“Nationwide there are reports of up to 30% of FECRTs (Faecal Egg Count Reduction Tests) in sheep showing triple drench resistance. Often farmers don’t notice as they aren’t monitoring for it regularly. It’s a huge cause for concern,” Jeremy Leigh says.

When purchasing rams, parasite resistance is one of three or four main traits Jeremy Leigh considers. As the facial eczema tolerance genetics are present in the stud, he can focus on stock with good production figures and good feet.

“Factoring parasite resilience into stock purchasing decisions is vital as we wish to maintain drench efficacy with robust stock that don’t require regular drenching. Drenches are a finite resource and so we want a flock which is productive but sustainable and which will save money and time in the long run.”

Another WormFEC Gold member, Nelson stud owner, Peter Moore of Moutere Downs says concerns about the potential of drench resistance, led him to begin breeding for parasite resistance 20 years ago.

“A lot of people have buried their heads in the sand hoping drench resistance would go away”, he says. “However, it showed up on our property very early because our sheep graze on multiple properties so we were forced to take action.”

Peter Moore estimates they are saving at least $6,000 annually by not having to purchase as much drench.

With increasing economic pressure and talk of a global slowdown, reducing on-farm costs is essential. The Sainsbury’s FECPAKG2 Project (2014 - 2017) showed the average NZ sheep farmer producing 5,000 lambs potentially loses up to $75,000 annually due to reduced lamb growth rates from using a drench that does not work. Best practice 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.

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.

WormFEC evaluates the natural parasite resistance of rams through the New Zealand sheep industry’s performance recording and genetic evaluation database 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 group is: Gordon Levet, Kikitangeo, Northland; Peter Moore, Moutere Downs, Tasman; Andrew Tripp, Nithdale, Southland; 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

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