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Now they have gone into partnership in their own stud sheep breeding venture, with their respective partners, Sue Kerr and Kate Taylor, establishing Wairua Merino.
The stud was founded last year with the purchase of ewes, rams and hoggets from the Mt Hay merino stud at Tekapo which was first registered in 1954.
It had been owned by John Henry Simpson who, on his retirement, passed it on to his nephew, Guy, and his wife, Jackie.
Tragically, Guy died from cancer in January last year and the stud came on the market.
Mr Smillie, who had been buying rams from Mt Hay for the previous 14 years, was concerned where he would get his rams from, while Mr Kerr had helped out at the stud on the eastern side of Lake Tekapo.
After a discussion, the pair — who also shared an interest in dog trialling — decided to go into partnership, to continue with the Mt Hay style of sheep, and they bought the majority of ewes on offer.
Since the mid-1980s, sires used in the stud had predominantly been Peppin bloodlines from Australia, mostly through artificial insemination. They were a larger sheep and good heavy clippers of wool and the two couples were aiming around the 18-19 micron mark.
Mr Kerr, who lives at Kimbell, near Fairlie, was brought up on Grampians Station, a well-known Mackenzie property which was managed by his father Peter, and which included a merino stud. He was keen on the showing aspect and Wairua Merino had entries at both Wanaka A&P Show and the Mackenzie Highland A&P Show.
Mr Smillie said they were keen to get the Wairua name out there and they were hoping for a good turnout to an open day in the Hakataramea Valley from 1pm on December 3.
They would also have some stud sires, a few ewe hoggets, and some two-tooth ewes with lambs on foot for people to look at "to give an idea of what our sheep are like and where we are heading".
It was also an opportuntiy to "have a beer and sausage and talk about sheep and rugby, I suppose", he said.
They were keen to build up ewe numbers so the stud was big enough to supply a "decent amount" of good quality rams. Mr Smillie was pleased with this year’s line-up.
They were embracing modern technology and working with Will Gibson from neXtgen Agri who was helping them with that.
They were doing EMA testing for carcass traits and also wool testing.
"We’re moving forward all the time.
"Hopefully we’ll bring some new stuff and old stuff and a bit of enthusiasm. There’s some big plans and ideas going forward," Mr Smillie said.
The fine wool sector was "in a pretty solid place" at the moment and that was positive for them.