Business Rural Summer 2021

30 | Decades of investment in breeding pays off Ram shearing the traditional way with blade shears. Russell Fredric W hen it comes to assessing the traits and breeding values of Merino sheep, Two Thumb Merinos owner John Simpson trusts his hands and eyes more than figures on a computer. After nearly a lifetime of high country mustering, farming and breeding, the basics of sheep structure and stockmanship is first and foremost to John. Two Thumb Merinos stud is based on two leased properties totalling 500ha at Richmond, Tekapo while John and his wife, Susan, live on their 40ha home farm at Opuha which is supported by an 80ha block nearby at Allendale. John has invested many decades in breeding a merino that meets the criteria he requires for a highly functional, productive high country sheep. While the breed is renowned for its fine wool, the nature of the skin is a key trait is of prime importance to him. “A lot of people don’t appreciate a merino’s got to have good supple skin and with that good skin you get the lanolin up the fibre and that helps protect the fibre from sand and other things that might get in it.” This trait was especially important on the 10,500ha Mt Hay station where John was born and bred and leased until 2017, following in the footsteps of this father, Jack, who established the stud in 1954 alongside the station’s commercial operation. Most of the station’s stud rams were originally sourced from Central Otago, but at the time they did not have good skin and because the structure of the wool was not right they picked up a lot of sand. MEAT & WOOL » Two Thumb Merinos Photos: Two Thumb Merino rams (above) and stud ewes at Richmond, Tekapo. John attended a sheep classing course in Australia in the early 1990’s and after Australian classers visited about the same time, Two Thumb Merino’s genetics were changed “quite dramati- cally” which improved the skins. “The other thing is fibre alignment so you’re eliminating cross fibre; if the fibre alignment is right the wool’s a lot better for processing. We went to quite a positive crimping wool whereas the untrained eye would think they were strong. “When I first went to Mt Hay it was 20.5 micron, presumably on fine genetics, but when I changed to Peppin genetics which is more the medium (micron) type sheep in Australia, because we’d concentrated in getting those skins and the fibre alignment right, the last few years at Mt Hay it was under 18.” Aged nearly 70, he is a well of knowledge about Merinos, but is happy to acknowledge that he is still learning. While the production and marketing of fine me- rino wool has been a New Zealand success story, in some instances chasing the micron came at a cost to other important traits, especially those that relate to the constitution and frame of the sheep, John says. Consequently he has sought to breed a structurally sound sheep that perform well in the geographic and climatic conditions they have to face year round. “I do not use EBV’s (estimated breeding values); my classing is done on eye appraisal and actual data and bloodlines collected over decades, sheep performance, wool performance and taking a bal- anced approach to all traits.” John is looking forward to showing the quality of this season’s Two Thumbs Merinos rams on offer during the summer to both regular and prospective clients. Mulligan Agriculture Phone Alistair 027 485 5626 or 685 8244 | Proudly supporting Two Thumb Merinos Land Development - Rock & Stone Picker available this season. CULTIVATION & DRILLING 31 years providing quality on-farm services to Mackenzie Districts Ploughing • Subsoiling • Grubbing & Rolling • Multidiscing • Beet & Maize Planting • Direct Drilling • Discs & Tyne Drills • Roller Drilling • Harrow Seeder This season we are operating alongside our other planter, a strip tillage precision planter–only one pass needed to get the job done. Proud to support Two ThumbMerinos WhittakerAg For all your agricultural spraying needs 021 0849 7055