The sheep industry is a constantly moving feast and Donald and Liz Polson have entered a joint venture with Focus Genetics in an attempt to stay ahead of the game.

The innovative Whanganui farmers joined with the 100 percent-owned Landcorp company to carry out an AI (artificial insemination) programme to improve the performance of their elite commercial Waipuna flock.

The composite breed was created from an original base using Romney, Finn and Texel stock on the Mangamahu hill country farm.

"It is important to be at the top of the game with the introduction of top performing outside genes or special traits which we believe are important," Donald Polson said.

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"It is also important to link with other breeders in New Zealand and Australia to identify these animals — AI allows us to do this, but it's not cheap. SIL (Sheep Improvement Ltd), run by Beef and Lamb Genetics, uses these linkages to rank rams."

ABS vet Dr Andrew Russo artificially inseminates elite ewes at Waipuna in Mangamahu last week. Photo / Bevan Conley
ABS vet Dr Andrew Russo artificially inseminates elite ewes at Waipuna in Mangamahu last week. Photo / Bevan Conley

The Waipuna flock is the elite New Zealand flock and is also the mother flock for the Australian arm of the operation.

Until the practice was halted, embryos from the flock were sent to Australia to help improve genetics.

Facial eczema is a very topical issue and the programme has been able to make fast progress to improve tolerance to FE.

"Being a composite flock, we are not limited to breed," Mr Polson said.

All elite Waipuna sheep (1200 ewes and 700 ewe hoggets plus rams) have a DNA profile which has allowed the animals to be selected with genomics as well as conventional testing.

"We work closely with Focus Genetics geneticist Dr Danni Bagley. Danni has the skills to make the most of the data combined with genomics, which we believe will make a huge difference in developing a profitable sheep for hill country."

The aim is to develop highly fertile sheep able to get in-lamb under testing conditions and tolerant to FE and internal parasites. They will only need shearing once year and are free moving.

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"These sheep must be bred and selected under the conditions that most sheep are farmed," Mr Polson said.

That philosophy reflected the Polson's decades old catch phrase — Bred In The Hills, Designed For Profit.

A mob of 136 Waipuna ewes were selected by Dr Bagley to receive semen sourced from Kelson Genetics in Hawkes By and from Geelong in Victoria, Australia.

At the sharp end of the operation, a veterinarian from ABS (Animal Breeding Services) in Hamilton, Dr Andrew Russo and his Argentinian assistant Federico Umansky, carried out the AI exercise in the Polson's woolshed last Friday.

ABS specializes in AI procedures in cattle, sheep and goats nationwide.

Dr Russo has literally performed thousands of inseminations in sheep, although conceded it was far more common in milking breeds.

"We've been doing it for years with cattle and more recently with sheep. There has been a massive increase in the number of sheep milking breeds," Dr Russo said.

Photo / Bevan Conley
Photo / Bevan Conley

Such was his skill, the procedure took Dr Russo just minutes to perform on each animal with little or no apparent discomfort to the ewe.

Also available, although not the focus of the Polson exercise, was sex semen that allowed farmers to determine whether a ewe lamb or ram lamb would be produced.

"This has been done for some time with cattle and some work has been done with ram production — it's the same technology," Dr Russo said.