Old hand at scanning ewes

Ultrasound scanner Peter Clulee has scanned his fair share of sheep over the course of 25 years....
Ultrasound scanner Peter Clulee has scanned his fair share of sheep over the course of 25 years. PHOTO: ALICE SCOTT
Twenty-five years ago Peter Clulee says pregnancy scanning ewes was "like watching paint dry" for the farmer.

"I would start in the dark and finish in the dark and we would scan about 800 ewes."

Three-and-a-half million ewes later, Mr Clulee has become an old hand at pregnancy scanning, getting through around 3000 to 4000 in a day "a couple of my guys can do up to 6000", he said.

Knowing whether a ewe is dry or has single or multiple lambs has become an important management tool for farmers since the ultrasound technology was adopted in New Zealand around 26 years ago.

"I was working at Hukarere Station, when it was in its first year. I got keen on it when Stu Bain came to scan the ewes, which planted the idea to perhaps have a go at it. I initially phoned around farmers I knew and it sounded like they would be quite supportive to this new idea. So with the help of Stu and Murray Dodds I got started."

Two years after that Mr Clulee got into eye muscle scanning on sheep studs.

"Basically because of the type of scanner I bought initially for pregnancy scanning was compatible also for eye muscle scanning."

That side of the business grew slowly, and he initially travelled to Australia for four to five weeks for 11 years until he purchased an eye muscle business in Canterbury and a smaller one locally. This side of the business has grown and is now the mainstay of the business.

"We have 250 stud clients covering the South and North Island, and I muscle scan about 35,000 in a year."

The nature of the work has Mr Clulee away from his Outram base for up to 10 days at a time.

In total Mr Clulee will pregnancy scan around 150,000 ewes in a season himself "but I’m keen to back the throttle off a bit this season". His wife Carolyn is at home "keeping the books in order and the ship facing the right way".

The company has one full-time pregnancy scanner and six part-timers. Son Logan has recently joined the team and taken on the run of Neil Burnett’s.

"He will be kept busy through Hyde to Omarama scanning about 50,000 ewes from Neil’s run plus about 50,000 for us."

The company will pregnancy scan around 400,000 ewes in a season.

So far this season the pregnancy scanning numbers "are back a bit" across their clients.

"If I was to give it a number it would be about 5% to 8% back on last year, I suppose."

Many farmers have commented on the tough autumn and trying to get their lighter ewes back on track.

It’s unparalleled however he said to "those poor buggers" up north currently farming through a drought.

"Some in the Hawke’s Bay are back 35%."

A new part of the business started three years ago when Mr Clulee was approached by ANZCO Foods to do a training course and operate a scanner for them doing intramuscular fat assessments (marbling) on prime cattle before slaughter. The images are captured, downloaded, sent to America and returned within 48 hours. It proved to be very accurate.

"After two seasons ANZCO dropped that particular contract and I decided to purchase the scanner from them, which is the only one in Australasia. So I am now a free agent to do independent IMF measuring on cattle."

The couple are also part of a 4-way partnership at Kinvara Deer Farm, just outside Middlemarch, and they also have a Suftex sheep stud, selling about 50 rams a year.

- Alice Scott

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