Anna Vaughan got ''hooked'' on merino sheep while undertaking
work experience at Lake Coleridge Station, in the Canterbury
high country, during her university summer.
Now, Miss Vaughan (31) is combining her passion for the breed
and for farming with her work as genetics project manager for
the New Zealand Merino Company (NZM), where she is heavily
involved with its central progeny test (CPT).
Miss Vaughan is from a farming background - her parents were
dairy farmers - but her last four secondary school years were
spent at Te Anau, where they managed a sheep and beef farm
They were involved with the development of the Landcorp
Landmark maternal composite sheep breed, in which she took an
Her brother Dave - now manager of Landcorp's Waipori Station
on the shores of Lake Mahinerangi - was shepherding and it
''looked like a pretty great life'', she recalled.
After graduating from Lincoln University with an agricultural
science degree, Miss Vaughan went shepherding and worked on
farms for the next eight years.
She worked on a diverse range of properties, from the
Mackenzie through to Waipori and Mt Linton Station in
Last year, Miss Vaughan was ''looking for something a bit
different''. She had previously been considering doing her
master's degree and had been in touch with geneticist Dr Mark
Ferguson, prior to him joining NZM.
Dr Ferguson, who moved from Western Australia to Christchurch
in 2012, is leading NZM's production science project.
He mentioned there was an opportunity at NZM, as genetics
project manager, which she ''jumped at''.
While it had been a ''big call'' to give up her working dogs
- she sold all but two, which were being looked after by
shepherds at Waipori - and day-to-day farming, she loved her
job. She was working among an ''awesome'' team and had
''learnt heaps'', she said.
Looking after the CPT was the biggest job; she was involved
with collecting data and working with stud breeders, trying
to get them to use estimated breeding values and ''making the
most'' of their data.
A CPT open day was held recently at Amberley, attended by
nearly 100 people. The CPT initially involved sourcing 2200
ewes from commercial flocks representative of the New Zealand
fine wool flock.
It tested progeny from 40 different fine wool rams each year
and was thought to be one of the bigger AI programmes to be
undertaken in the New Zealand sheep industry.
Data from the progeny was collected to provide a data set
used to demonstrate various factors including the wide range
in performance of sires, an estimate of the genetic
parameters for foot rot, identifying rams that performed well
on non-traditional merino country, lamb survival, foot rot
and worm challenges, wool measurements, wrinkle and dag
score, fleece rot and fly strike, fat and muscle, growth
rates, and female reproduction.
The open day was an opportunity to show some of the CPT
results and talk about the role of genetics and animal health
traits, Miss Vaughan said.
Guest speaker Martin Oppenheimer, from the Petali merino stud
in Walcha, New South Wales, spoke about his experiences
combining breeding values and stockmanship to breed a
Other speakers included NZM chief executive John Brakenridge
on the importance of market-led production, Australian sheep
reproduction expert Jason Trompf on genetic opportunities to
improve lamb survival, and Robert Wyld from Sapien
Technologies on the potential of software to simplify data
There was an opportunity to view the progeny of the sires and
hear the latest data.
What was being seen was that, for each trait, there was a
''huge amount of variation'', Miss Vaughan said. It provided
opportunities for farmers - ''the rams are out there if
you're trying to improve on a trait''.
In April, Miss Vaughan and Richard Gloag, from Buscot
Station, at Omarama, took part in a New Zealand-South Africa
agricultural exchange, funded by the Gordon McMaster Trust
and facilitated by the Otago Merino Association.
Their main host was Andries Pienaar, who won the South
African farmer of the year title in 1985, and who runs the
Mega Merino stud with his son Jacques.
Mr Pienaar has radically changed his type of sheep over about
30 years, and now breeds a very plain-bodied sheep that
produced about 30% wool and 70% meat. His genetics were used
both in New Zealand and Australia.
Miss Vaughan said the ''fantastic'' trip included seeing
merino judging at the Bloem Show in Bloemfontein, attending
the world merino conference in Stellenbosch, and farm visits.
There was a strong emphasis on meat in South African merinos
and the sheep were ''really different to what your stereotype
of what a merino looks like''. It was an ''eye opener''
seeing what a merino could be.