Still working to breed better sheep

Inspecting Texel and Suffolk-Texel in-lamb hogget ewes are the new and former owners of a...
Inspecting Texel and Suffolk-Texel in-lamb hogget ewes are the new and former owners of a Ranfurly farm (from left) Alistair and Karen McLeod and Mac and Mary Wright. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Texel stud breeders Alistair and Karen McLeod sold their grazing block in Central Otago to move to the Maniototo to continue their dream of breeding a better sheep.

Mr McLeod said people had been telling him he might be ‘‘getting a bit too long in the tooth’’ to be buying another farm to continue stud breeding.

‘‘When it’s your passion and you love doing it, it’s in your blood.’’

The McLeods had known fellow Texel breeders Mac and Mary Wright for about 25 years, meeting as New Zealand Sheepbreeders’ Association members, Mr McLeod said.

‘‘We used to buy and swap rams together.’’

Mrs McLeod said she had always admired the way the Wrights had farmed in the Maniototo.

When the Wrights decided to retire last year, they gave the McLeods the first option of buying their home and 120ha farm near Ranfurly.

The Wrights are building a new home on a lifestyle block closer to the town.

Part of the handshake deal including keeping working dog Ollie on, and looking after their big black cat, Nelson, until the new house was ready.

The sale was made at the end of March and the McLeod’s Egilshay stud includes 240 Texel and 30 Ile de France ewes. They also had 175 Suffolk-Texel ewes — continuing the Wright’s work developing the breed.

Mrs McLeod said the sale allowed them to continue their Texel stud and complement it with the sheep of the Wrights, who shared similar breeding values.

The McLeods continue to sell to former clients of the Wrights and bought all of their ram hoggets to meet the demand of next season, he said.

Egilshay Stud was also developing a new breed using an Ile de France ram and Romney-Merino ewes.

The aim was to develop a fertile sheep, producing a mid-micron fleece and a fast growing carcass, so it could be sent to the meatworks in the same the season it was born.

The project had already sparked some interest from a couple of Southland farmers, who saw potential in running terminal rams of the breed.

The McLeods had lived across the South before settling in the Maniototo.

After finishing school, Mr McLeod had stints at the freezing works and shearing, before the couple leased the 140ha McLeod family farm at Winton for about nine years.

The McLeods began stud breeding Texels in 1993, wanting to take farming ‘‘to the next level’’ by improving traits such as fertility, growth and carcass yield.

Texels appealed because the breed was intelligent and easy to care for.

‘‘You’re not continually drenching, dipping or dagging them.’’

The Winton farm was sold to allow a neighbouring dairy farmer to expand.

The McLeods bought a 225ha sheep and beef farm in Riversdale in 2001.

The stock on the Riversdale operation was mostly commercial and the stud included about 650 ewes — a mix of Texel, Suffolk-Texel and Poll Dorset-Texel.

They sold the Riversdale farm in 2008 and bought nearly 9ha of land to develop in Queensberry, about 20km southwest of Wanaka.

They also leased other land in the area to run their Texel stud of 150 ewes.

The decision to move away from running commercial stock was because he had ‘‘slowed down’’ as doctors worked to diagnose his blood disorder haemochromatosis, or iron overload.

Treatment was keeping the condition ‘‘at bay’’.

For the past three years, genetics of the English Texel breed had been introduced to Egilshay Stud in a bid to return the breed closer to its original appearance, making it ‘‘true-to-type’’ and easier to shear.

When the Ranfurly opportunity was floated, the McLeods sold their Queensberry grazing block to Australian company Joval Wine Group for $1.05million so it could expand its neighbouring vineyard, growing more pinot noir grapes, to produce its Nanny Goat wine.

The Ranfurly farm was easier for running a stud than in Queensberry because it was a single block of land and it included irrigation.

Mr McLeod said he had always been passionate about sheep breeding.

‘‘When I was a primary school kid I’d ask dad how many sets of triplets were born in the commercial ewes and I’d have a book and write it all down.’’

Mrs Wright (nee Hore) was the fourth generation of her family to live in the Maniototo and she always intended to retire there.

Retirement would include cycling, forest walks, gardening and horse riding.

The hardest part of the sale of the stud was breaking ties with the association, after being involved with it since they established their Golden Terrace stud in 1991.

The Wrights began the stud with nine ewes and a ram.

Sheep numbers at their stud peaked at about 190 Texel ewes and 190 Suffolk-Texel ewes.

They paid for the first 10 sheep using all of his wife’s annual salary teaching at Waiau College, in Tuatapere.

‘‘That’s how we got into Texels — so they are really Mary’s Texels and not mine.’’

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