Clifton Corriedale Stud

September 2007
Clifton Corriedale Stud, founded in 1929 has become under Arthur Blakely the leading Corriedale stud in the country, winning numerous Canterbury and Royal Show championships during the past two decades and achieving some notable prices for rams, sold in NZ and for export to South America. There are more Corriedales in South American countries like Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil than there are in New Zealand, although the breed was developed here in the mid 1800s by James Little, of Corriedale Station, North Otago. He mated fine-woolled Merinos with long-woolled English Leicester and Lincolns, to adapt sheep to wetter conditions. It is now a dual-purpose breed with its home in Canterbury, producing prime lambs and medium wool, from 24 to 33 microns in diameter. Ewes produce an average fleece weight of 5.5kg greasy pa, and the wool has historically gone into medium-weight worsteds and hand-knitting yarns.

Clifton now also has Suffolk (1992) and Poll Dorest (1996) studs, and Dohne merinos and Dorpers, both recent imported breeds from South Africa.

Clifton property consists of the sheep breeding unit of 260ha and a commercial farm of 380ha. It is owned by a trust and leased back to sheep breeders Arthur Blakely and Matt OBrien. They are 50/50 owners of Clifton sheep breeding, with five studs of different breeds and some crossbreds, along with commercial ewes based on Corriedales. Clifton is the Blakely family property and Matt and Anna OBrien purchased a half share in the sheep, not the land.

Matt was born in the Thames Valley, North Island and went to Taratahi agricultural college near Masterton for one year after leaving school. He worked on three different Canterbury farms. The first full-time job was with James K. Sidey at Ashburton, where Matt was introduced to Corriedale sheep and the running of a sheep stud. He bought his first 30 Corriedale ewes at that time (about 11 years ago) and was introduced to stud sheep preparation and showing. Matt moved on to Tim Wilkinsons Romney stud at Rangitata for his second three-year stint and then to Adam Spiers at Mayfield, a cattle, sheep and deer farm.

Matt met Arthur in competition in the Canterbury show rings and a friendship developed. Arthur employed Matt as stud manager and after two years offered the OBriens the half-purchase option, which they took up. Matt and Clifton were recently featured during the Corriedale World Congress which was held in New Zealand. Matt and Anna have two children, Paige aged 7 and Jack aged 5.

Matt has also been interested in dual-purpose sheep and is impressed by the abilities of the Corriedale to exist on dry, hard country and then switch to good, lush feed and produce prime lambs. Sheep breeding is a challenging career where lambs are retained for one year and decisions are made which will hopefully help ram clients in their businesses, says Matt. It adds another dimension to all stock work, he said.

There are about 2200 sheep within the partnership, including 1000 stud ewes, 450 commercial ewes, 400 ewe hoggets and 350 ram hoggets, plus 40 mature rams.

Show sheep are conditioned to chaff and nuts before being penned up for several days but are otherwise run like commercial sheep. Sale rams have got to shift and do well in commercial environments when they are sold. Matt believes showing is a good way to compare stud sheep and the competition among Corriedale breeders is willing. Matt is president of Hawarden A&P Society and shows there, plus Amberley, Rangiora, Cheviot and Amuri, as well as Christchurch.

Clifton has a cropping and regrassing programme which includes 15-20ha of rape in the spring, followed by Italian ryegrass in the autumn (30ha) mainly for the ewes before lambing. Its sows about 15ha annually of permanent pasture and Matt is going away from ryegrass at present towards tall fescue, red clover and plantain mix and grazing brome, prairie grass and lucerne mix. Clifton also has 40ha of lucerne which is mainly all bailed and conserved.

Clifton sells over 200 rams aged about 15 months at an annual auction on the property in December. Last year 30 Corriedale rams sold at auction, and 20 soon after, averaging $600 to $700, 70 Suffolks sold averaging $800, 60 Poll Dorsets sold, averaging $650, about 15 Dohnes and 20 Poll Dorset Dohne-cross. Many are bought by agents on behalf of commercial sheep farmers, including 32 bought by one North Island agent.

All rams are presented with Sheep Improvement (SIL) figures and Corriedales also have Goldmark status (top 10%), DNA test ranking for footrot susceptibility and fleece test by SGS.

Lambing performance in the Corriedales is 148% tailed, and this year the commercial ewes have scanned 157%. Ewe wool is around 28 microns at 70% yield and close to 6kgs of production. It recently sold for $4.38/kg clean, but Matt says the NZD strength is holding down returns, which should be $5/kg or better.

Clifton doesnt have preferential customers for its mid-micron wool, and is a backer of the Mid-Micron Group approach, but it does have orders from here and overseas for rams. There is still a lot of interest from South America, for Corriedales, Suffolks, Poll Dorsets and Dohnes, Matt said.

It helps that Arthur is very well known over there, having visited and judged many times, and he is now involved in live sheep exporting, along with semen and embryos. Arthur cannot be at the Clifton shoot because he is in Mexico at the World Sheep and Wool Congress, representing New Zealand sheep breeders. Recently he organised a shipment of 35,000 two-tooth ewes to the state of Mexico, near Mexico City, worth $5 million, returning around $100/head to contributing farmers.

Clifton doesnt sell rams from the December sale for export but keeps back some to fulfil orders received by Arthur. No females are sold, because the best Corriedales are kept within the stud and the Suffolks and Poll Dorsets are still growing numbers.

Matt believes that sheep breeding and sales on the scale of Clifton is comparable in profitability to commercial ewes and lamb finishing, but not if account was made of the amount of extra time he puts in.