Gordon Lucas Dual-purpose Merino

May 2008
While others in the merino industry are retrenching or looking for a new ways of marketing wool some are still hard at work developing a dual-purpose merino that can answer the needs of both the wool industry and the meat suppliers.

Back in late 1999 early 2000 Gordon Lucas of Nine Mile Station was starting to use Cervical Artificial Insemination to shift the entire flock in the direction he wanted to go in a very short period of time. He always wanted to lift productivity throughout the flock.

Prior to beginning the CAI programme in 1999, we had focused on reducing micron by selecting the finest ewe hoggets as replacements, but it was with mixed success.

They began by introducing genetics from Lorelmo, a superfine stud in the New England region of Australia. Because that property lies on the Great Dividing Range at a height of 1433m and with a 1524mls rainfall, that climate dictated the type of Merino he felt would benefit Nine Mile which lies on the western side of the Lindis Pass.

The station carries about 5500 ewes and 190 cattle on 2226ha. Although the land runs from 366m to 1220m, the place has 65ha of irrigated land used to provide supplementary feed which Gordon considers an important part of the 18-day insemination programme.

Jayne Rive, who grew up on Halfway Bay Station at Lake Wakatipu, used to work part-time at Lorelmo Stud, but has found it to hard to juggle jobs on both sides of the Tasman. She has been working with Gordon since 1998 as a Stud Master and was the driving force behind the CAI programme at Nine Mile.

She classes all our ewes every year because of our policy that every ewe every year earns its place and she also assists with our recording, Gordon says. Jayne has given us huge support.

Because the station has between 100 and 150 two-tooths which go into a ram breeding programme annually, the CAI ewes are ranked second to those ram breeding ewes.

Fertility and growth rates along with retaining micron and increasing fleece weight are all part of the selection criteria.

Jaynes big on EBVs and keeps a close eye on both the wool micron and things like

- growth rates

- eye muscle

- fertility

She also says they have been chasing a polled merino and one with bugger all wool around the rear end which means no meusling and less risk to fly strike .

Jayne says they stopped CAI ewes two years ago when Gordons woolshed burnt down. These days they are still pushing the same dual purpose target but without all the hard work of CAI.

Between 60 and 90 teaser rams are used in the programme as they have discovered the more the better as it gives a quicker detection of on heat ewes.

During the first programme we used ram lambs. Two hundred ewes had been selected the previous year and inseminated to three sires using frozen semen from Lorelmo. Selected ram lambs from this programme were then put across 200 ewes each. The aim was to distribute the genetics as quickly as possible at the best price and natural CAI was a very effective way of achieving this.

The rams used over the ewes get a random selection whatever comes into the shed on heat so besides the annual selection of CAI ewes, each ram gets a random sample.

Ewes are tagged to each sire as they are inseminated and when they lamb in their separate sire mobs, the resulting ewe progeny are tagged to their sire.

Gordon uses a ranking of top, middle, bottom given to each ewe hogget at classing. They are also body weighed, micron tested and fleece weighed with all information being downloaded in the Woolpac programme, an Australian stud and flock recording programme.

He says this information gives him a ranking for the sires used.

For Nine Mile Station, there are varied advantages to carrying out the CAI programme.

Because of only requiring between six and eight rams, it means we can give a much better selection of rams to the general ewes. We estimate around an 85% conception rate with the remaining lambs coming from returning ewes to the backup rams. They use only three back-up rams per 1000 ewes.

We have bought rams in Australia and imported them back to New Zealand which would not be cost effective without CAI.

Although modest about progress, he says they are now achieving better carcases, retaining and bettering fleece weights, and fining up the fibre at the same time. They also now have a lambing percentage of 105%.