Genetics part of management parcel

Alliance Group chairman Owen Poole presents Mimihau farmers George and Kathryn Smith  with three awards, including the gold Alliance Group Limited Terminal Sire Overall award at the Sheep Industry Awards in Invercargill last week. Photo by Beef and Lamb New Zealand
Alliance Group chairman Owen Poole presents Mimihau farmers George and Kathryn Smith with three awards, including the gold Alliance Group Limited Terminal Sire Overall award at the Sheep Industry Awards in Invercargill last week. Photo by Beef and Lamb New Zealand

An interest in genetics at school has been a part of George Smith's fibre for many decades.

As a farmer, his schoolboy lessons about dominant and recessive genes came into play when determining desirable traits in his sheep and he was recording genetic information about his flock during the 1970s before it was common to do so.

''Genetics came into [my] studies and I have tried to apply that to sheep,'' Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith farms 282ha on his family property at Mimihau with his wife Kathryn Smith and his son Hamish Smith.

The farm carries 3600 Texels and Texel/Romney/Coopworth composites on rolling hill country.

The couple celebrated 100 years of family ownership in July.

''It was basically just a commercial operation with a few cattle. In 1963 we bought in a few stud Romney ewes because of my interest in genetics,'' Mr Smith said.

The couple took over the farm, which was previously a partnership with his father and brother, in the early 1970s.

Initially he developed his own system for recording genetic traits in his sheep using a manual ledger.

Mrs Smith said the emergence of the Sheep Improvement Limited (SIL)

genetic evaluation system and database in the late 1990s was a major milestone.

Mr Smith said going into SIL had been a big improvement - the farm now had 1400 ewes which were fully recorded with SIL.

''It analyses the production of each animal and it is bringing the genetics into it so that we can identify the animals with the highest potential for all the things that we are trying to produce,'' he said.

However, being involved in breeders groups, such as Alpha Sheep Genetics had also provided significant long-term benefits because of the free flow of information and the ability to swap rams within the 15-member group, which had a total of 26 flocks.

During the past season the group weaned 10,000 ram lambs.

In 2005, Texels were bred into the flocks and the focus on genetics paid dividends in meat production.

''A 14kg carcass back in the 1960s probably wasn't too bad, but we now wouldn't consider it. But now I would get 18kg to 20kg per carcass.''

With a focus on meat production, income from wool produced only about 15% of the farm's total income.

In recent years, the Smiths had been involved in research projects such as a lamb survival trial with Dr Julie Everett-Hincks, of AgResearch, Invermay.

Mr Smith had a simple explanation for outwardly assessing a lamb's survivability at birth by how it walked, ''talked'' and how it fed.

The couple were also actively involved in the development of the SNP 50K chip for producing breeding values based on DNA taken from tissue samples.

However, farming involved more than genetics.

''Genetics is only a part of it. Management of animal health in the end contributes to your end result.''

Despite their track record with genetics and a commendation at last year's sheep industry awards, the Smiths were still surprised to have been this year's gold award winner for the Alliance Group Limited Terminal Sire award and finalists in the SIL-ACE Terminal Sire for Meat Yield and Dual Purpose for Wool awards.