Matt and Emma Holden - MyoMAX

October 2006
Matt and Emma Holden have 810ha effective, made up of 550ha Beechwood Hills owned, and 310ha Folgers Hill leased block. The home farm is described as easy rolling country and the adjoining leased farm is steep hill country.

The home farm is 480m ASL and receives 1500mm rainfall annually.

The property has 280ha behind deer fence and runs 400 Red deer, along with 6000 Kelso composite ewes and 1044 ewe hoggets, with no cattle (at July 1).

Among the ewes 2500 are part of the Kelso maternal composite nucleus flock (12,000 in total), run on four cross-linked partnering farms.

Matt thus has 3500 commercial ewes, which are also Kelso composite, and 1044 commercial ewe hoggets, which are mated to lamb as hoggets.

Matt swung over to Kelso composite ewes in 2000, from Romney flock base. He saw an immediate lift in two-tooth ewe and hogget performance. Before the switch, he achieved 114% lambing and about 300kg of lamb liveweight to the hectare. In the first year using Kelso rams lambing shot up to 150% and production to 480kg LW/ha. It is now doing around 580kg/ha.

Lambing on Beechwood Hills starts on September 10 for the stud ewes, followed by September 20 for the commercial ewes and October 1 for the commercial ewe hoggets.

This year the scanning results were 212% for the stud ewes, 198% for the commercial ewes and 118% for the commercial ewe hoggets.

This year lambing has been completely unshepherded and Matt expects one of his best tailing results ever. He says minimal disturbance cuts the death rate right down. All multiple ewes have been stocked at 12/ha on the home farm and 7/ha on the leased hill farm, at ratios of 9 twin-bearing and 3 triplet bearing ewes.

All stud flock lambs, male and female, are sent to Kelsos home property Tutu Totara, Marton after weaning, which is at 90 days of age, around mid-December. Liveweight gains of around 320g/day are achieved before weaning. Matt has a contract with Kelso which rewards higher lambing percentages (survival to weaning) and heavier weaning weights.

At Tutu Totara, the 2000 ram lambs are selected down to 1200 for sale to commercial buyers of Kelso composites, and all the ewe hoggets spend 12 months there before a selection is returned to Matt for the stud flock replacements.

His own commercial ewes and lambs are weaned around January 10 and killable lambs sent to the works. The remaining males and bottom end of females are sold as stores to finishers like Mike Petersen, Waipukurau.

Matt keeps 1500 ewe lambs for priority feeding over summer, in order to achieve 1000-plus ewe hoggets in lamb during their first winter. He set-stocks them lightly at 3-5/ha for their first lambing with the deer, which adds about 50% gross income to the deer unit.

Running the hogget flock in the deer unit has proved to be a successful way of maintaining the quality of the ryegrass clover pastures.

He initially ran the hoggets in the deer unit to control ragwort, but found not only did they control the weeds and help improve pasture quality, removing the hoggets from the sheep rotation freed up pasture on the rest of the farm allowing him to carry more mixed-age ewes.

Matts experience with MyoMAX genetics so far shows out in the visual impact of lambs which are carrying double copies of the gene. These have noticeably more muscle definition in the hind-quarter, and less carcase fat.

Kelso also ran a lamb survival selection trial on Beechwood last lambing and a related benefit was that the ram with the double copy of the MyoMAX gene was not disadvantaged, and did not have a greater incidence of dystocia, which is deaths due to heavyweight lambs.

When the Kelso stud flock came to Matt in 2004, he also installed a Racewell sheep handling system, with associated EID tags and electronic data capture.

Matt says he is happy to be working with Kelso and having the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of sheep breeding and production.

Kelso principal Roger Marshall, at Tutu Totara, near Marton has been breeding sheep for 50 years, the past 15 year on Kelso composites, which are a mix of Romney or Coopworth with the Finn fertility and the Texel muscularity. Because of the Texel presence, Kelso composites also have a higher proportion of the MyoMAX gene, which is expressed in more leg muscle and less carcase fat.

Kelso aims to maximise the rate of genetic gain for the traits which have the biggest contributions to profitability on sheep farms, such as high lambing percentages, good survival and good growth rates. However the ranking system used for rams of dual indexes enables buyers to put emphasis on the traits they want to improve. Kelso also uses progeny testing for traits like lamb survival, resistance to internal parasites and resistance to facial eczema. Kelso runs an elite flock of 500 ewes at Beechwood, among the 2500 stud ewes and 12,000 nucleus composite ewes on four partnering properties in both North and South Islands.

Using a DNA test it is possible to find out which sheep are single and double carriers of the MyoMAX gene expression. Fully expressed, MyoMAX sheep will have 10% more leg and rump muscle and 15% less carcase fat. This combination could add 5% more value to a finished lamb. Validation of the MyoMAX effect by Catapault, which is a commercial subsidiary of Ovita, involved screening up to 30,000 sheep from breeders throughout New Zealand for the presence of the gene. Catapault had to be sure the gene effect was consistent in commercial sheep farming. In the process, it was verified that the presence of the meat-plus gene does not compromise production traits such as growth rate and lamb survival. Two-tooth rams which are single and double carriers of the MyoMAX gene will be available at ram sales this year. Most will be from a Texel background, but the gene is also being transferred into other breeds.