AgResearch scientist Dr Julie Everett-Hincks gets job
satisfaction from helping farmers. Photo by Sally Rae.
Julie Everett-Hincks' fascination with sheep breeding and
lamb survival began at a young age.
Now a senior scientist at AgResearch Invermay, Dr
Everett-Hincks grew up on a sheep farm in South Otago and, as
soon as she could walk, she was out with her father on the
Even as a young girl, she wondered "why some sheep made
better mothers than other sheep".
"I thought, 'wouldn't it be great if we could breed great
mums'," she recalled.
After leaving South Otago High School, she headed to Massey
University with the intention of becoming a vet, but later
switched to an agricultural science degree, specialising in
animal breeding and farm management systems.
It was a diverse degree - "from ploughing paddocks to
economics" - and it stood her in good stead for her future
She was awarded a scholarship by the Wool Board to do her
master's degree in animal breeding and wool production, and
was then employed by the board. While there, she helped get
shearing and wool-handling qualifications on to the New
Zealand Qualifications Authority framework.
That was followed by a stint at Southland Polytechnic, where
she ran the land strategy group, until she decided she
"wanted to go back to what I wanted to do when I was a little
Armed with a scholarship from AGMARDT, she returned to Massey
and completed a PhD in animal science, investigating lamb
rearing performance in highly fecund sheep.
Towards the end of her degree, she was approached by
AgResearch and asked to join the team at Invermay, where she
Dr Everett-Hincks is involved with three main projects - a
major research programme on lamb survival which looks at
maternal and environmental factors which influence lamb
survival; the deer progeny test; and triplet trials at
Landcorp's Mararoa Station.
The lamb survival project, funded by Ovita, Beef and Lamb New
Zealand farmer levies and AgResearch, involves farmers
contributing pedigree (via SIL), lambing records and
post-mortem data to a database with performance records of
more than 200,000 lambs.
The Ovita trials aims to provide genomic breeding values for
birthweight, lamb death and survival trait, using large-scale
field trials on commercial breeding farms. Its aim is to make
a significant difference to lamb revenue on New Zealand
Dr Everett-Hincks encouraged farmers to consider how many
lambs they lost this year and to identify the causes of those
losses, if they could.
Lamb survival was crucial to profitability, both for
individual farmers and the New Zealand sheep industry, she
"Understanding what influences lamb survival and monitoring
lamb losses on each property is essential to making sure
every lamb counts.
"Whatever you plan to do now, based on that information, will
not only make a difference in the next lambing season, but
also in three years' time when next season's ewe lambs go on
to be mothers."
There were many reasons why lambs died in the crucial
three-day period following birth, and they were not always
the same every season.
But there were also common issues across the years, so
closely monitoring the birthweight, cause and exactly what
effect that was having on mortality rates was the first step
in working out how to fix the problem, she said.
Ovita's research had already shown genetic methods and sire
selection were important.
It also found that lambs born of optimum birth weight (5kg)
had higher lamb survival rates, but survival was compromised
for lambs born lighter or heavier than the optimum.
There were many positive steps farmers could take to improve
survival, whether it was monitoring and maintaining ewe body
condition, feed budgeting, allocating sufficient feed to meet
a ewe's actual requirements, paddock selection, pasture
covers or introducing proven, more accurate genetics, through
Farmers could also consider weighing some lambs next year to
help pinpoint opportunities to improve survival rates.
The great thing about the lamb survival programme was that it
involved more of a farm system and holistic view, rather than
just genetics, she said.
It was all about trying to get both the genetic and
management package right to ensure the optimum birthweight,
which would then give the lamb the best chance of survival
when it "hit the ground" regardless of the weather.
"It's important to minimise risk," she said.
Dr Everett-Hincks particularly enjoyed working with Tim and
Trish Smith, managers of Landcorp-owned Mararoa Station at Te
Anau, on the triplet trial.
The project was initiated after Mr and Mrs Smith contacted
AgResearch in a bid to work out how to manage all the
triplets they were getting.
She worked with colleagues John Rendel and David Stevens
looking at what the triplet ewes should be fed to get the
best performance out of them and, from there, economic
modelling would also be done.
The team at Mararoa was doing a "fabulous job" lifting body
condition score in the ewes in late pregnancy and to see how
that translated into lamb growth rates and weaning weights
would be exciting, she said.
Dr Everett-Hincks recently spent a couple of days on the
station, helping with tagging and lambing, and she loved
being "hands on".
She tried to challenge farmers to think about things "a bit
differently" and to take time out of their business to work
on it, not in it. She urged them to think about things like
lambing dates - were they timed right for pasture growth - or
to consider the number of ewes they were running, and if it
was too many.
She was a key advocate for feeding sheep better, "then start
working on other things".
Today's sheep were very different from what they used to be
and more was expected from them performance-wise, but unless
they were fed more, "that's not going to happen".
The need to feed better was not just confined to the sheep
industry, but also deer and dairy, she said.
As long as there were people like Mr and Mrs Smith who were
willing to "give it a go and push those boundaries", then
there were "fabulous opportunities to keep trying things
"We've blown a lot of theories out of the water working with
people like that, willing to give it a go," she said.
Dr Everett-Hincks was also enjoying her work with the deer
progeny test, an initiative for the industry which began last
While the deer industry was new to her, it involved the same
skills, knowledge and experience so, in many respects, it was
not too different.
She had her "dream job" and, what she enjoyed most, was
helping farmers, Dr Everett-Hincks said. She had built up
some great relationships with farmers over the years and a
key factor to establishing those relationships was empathy.
Having grown up in the farming community, she was fully aware
of the issues and challenges they were facing.
She spent quite a lot of time speaking with farmers and
farmer groups, which proved very valuable, as it resulted in
lots of questions, observations and feedback which aided her
She also enjoyed working with "wonderful people" at Invermay
and it was a team approach.
"We discuss things, we work together."
Dr Everett-Hincks combined part-time work with motherhood.
She and her partner, and her 4-year-old daughter, enjoy
living on a lifestyle property, near Brighton.