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CENTRAL SOUTH ISLAND FARMER
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Choosing good rams is fine science
of a ram while
Len Gilbert, his lean, tanned face
belying its cap of silvery grey hair,
pauses at the sheep yards gate to
cast an experienced eye over the
waiting two-tooth rams. He smiles
with anticipatory pleasure.
These are good sheep these
Then he opens the gate and he and
his son Matt, accompanied by stock
agent Damian Clarke and the rams
owner, Tom Abraham, walk in to
begin the work on which will hang
the financial success of their year to
come. The sheep are coopworths, a
fertile and meaty breed developed by
Lincoln College scientists 50 years
ago, and the Gilberts, sheep and beef
farmers at Pungatawa near Taihape,
are there to choose the best to take
It s a day both buyer and seller
look forward to each year.
For Abraham, who took over the
Puketauru Stud, near Turakina,
from his father David in 2001, it is
the start of a hectic few weeks when
clients come from across the North
Island to select new rams.
For the Gilberts, particularly Len,
who has been coming to the stud for
35 years, it is the pleasure of having
first pick of the best rams, a privilege
he prizes highly.
We ll get these home and then
watch their growth explode, he says.
The rams are 14 months old and
still cutting their adult teeth.
Abraham has two small mobs
ready to choose from, an elite group
of his best rams and a second-level
group. Pricing is to match, with the
elites selling for $900 and the others
at $675. The Gilberts, who want 10
rams, start with the lower-priced.
Clarke explains they are mainly
interested in growth rate and fer-
tility, which Matt interprets as: The
more lambs we can get on the ground
and grow the better -- that s what we
They consult cards which show
each ram s vital statistics calculated
by Sheep Improvement, a Beef +
Lamb New Zealand genetics service.
He remembers coming to the stud
as a boy 20 years ago and watching
his father and David Abraham spend
hours looking through each ram s
fleece to make their choice.
With the best fertility, growth and
meat traits identified, they make
their final decision on how the ram
looks to their practised eyes.
We re looking for nice looking big-
sized rams with the coopworth traits
of open face, clean legs, long body
and big rumps, Matt says.
Their choice of the best eight is put
aside and they move on to the elite
mob. These are met with an appreci-
ative low whistle from Len.
They re bigger and better-looking,
and they ve got a bloom. You can see
it in the colour of their wool.
They consult the cards and settle
on three they want to look at more
closely. The top-ranked ram is a sur-
prise. He is noticeably smaller than
It s hard to fathom, Clarke says.
He s so small, yet he s No 1.
Abraham points out the ram is a
triplet, which could explain his size.
The ranking is not just about
him, it s about how well his relatives
have done and the generations that
have gone before. It comes down to
dollars and cents, the money the
figures say this ram will give you.
The Gilberts go into a huddle with
Clarke and eventually make their
choice. The No 1 ram is not taken.
He s too small, we can t get over
that, Clarke says apologetically.
The rams are loaded onto the
Gilberts old truck and over a cup of
tea the talk is about how they will be
used. Each ram is expected to mate
with as many as 100 ewes.
The Gilberts have spent $7200 and
say it is worth the expense to get
On the strong Taihape hills they
are getting 141 per cent lambing
from their mixed-age ewes and 70
per cent from their hoggets. Last
year was exceptional through sum-
mer and autumn.
Weights were up and yields were
up, Matt says. They were getting
Abraham adds with a smile, I d
like to think the breeding had some-
thing to do with it, too.
On clay country near Turakina,
his lambing percentage among 550
ewes has been 165-178 per cent for
the past 10 years while the preg-
nancy scanning rate over the past
two years has been more than 200
His biggest critic is his father, now
in his 70s and taking a back seat.
He s my peer review. He s hard to
impress, and that s good.
On the back of the Gilberts truck,
the rams have settled down for the
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