A hardworking Taihape farming couple are the overall winners of the 2019 New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition.

Anna and Brian Coogan, who farm 330ha near the central North Island town, received the award at the competition dinner in Christchurch last month. They will host a field day at their farm later in the year.

"They're really humble, down-to-earth Kiwi people, just flying under the radar, never blowing their own trumpet, and you start pulling their business to bits and it's awesome," judge Dave McKelvie said.

The Coogans won awards for their Romney breed and its flock performance, as well as being overall winners of the annual competition. They received $8000 in prizes, a plaque and a medal.

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The competition judges ewe hoggets - the 18-month-old female sheep that are destined to be the replacements for ageing ewes. The aim is to have every generation coming through slightly better than the one before, McKelvie said.

Competitors provide five years of figures on their business, and judges look for operations that make the best possible use of their land.

"It isn't a pretty sheep competition. Fifty per cent of the points are on performance."

 The Coogans' Romney ewe hoggets were judged best of breed, and also perform well. Photo / supplied
The Coogans' Romney ewe hoggets were judged best of breed, and also perform well. Photo / supplied

Brian Coogan breeds and finishes his own lambs, at exceptional weights, and he has really good systems.

He shears the lambs with their mothers, then sends the ewe lambs to fresh pasture while the ram lambs stay with their mums for three or four weeks.

"There's a huge amount held at over19kg by Christmas or early New Year."

The Coogans also buy "empty" dairy cows - cows that are not pregnant - and put them to the bull ready to sell to dairy farms as autumn calvers. The cattle keep the pasture quality up, and if there's a drought they can be sold.

"If he is forced to destock the dairy cows would go, to make more room for his own capital stock, the sheep," McKelvie said.

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Brian Coogan also runs a contract fencing business, and is in demand because of his quality work.

McKelvie, a Southland farmer, said he and another two judges travelled New Zealand for two weeks to judge the competition.

"We would've run our eye across about 250,000 sheep."

The competition had at least 150 entrants, and each had to have at least 200 replacement hoggets for judging.