Lambing ewes outside under several hectares of solar panels was novel.

Stock check: Drench failure under the panels

A recent trip to Europe presented Kiwi vet Trevor Cook with a series of challenges.

This last month has challenged me with information overload, being sourced from both sides of the world. The fascinating experience was in Denmark when looking at their sheep industry. A flat country that grows pastures but with no idea of how to use them.

Lambing ewes outside under several hectares of solar panels was novel, but the drench test results which showed total failure of some families was at first puzzling. Sheep on pastures but far from being intensive and not a lot of anthelmintic used.

How could such drench failure occur?

It all fell into place when I found out that it is common practice for the areas that grow crops most of the time to be grazed with livestock for a year or two to build up organic matter. Sheep are largely used for this and it is standard practice to drench the sheep as they go on to these areas that will be as worm-free as is possible to get.

So immediately these areas are contaminated only with worms that survived the treatment. That is, resistant ones. These introduced sheep would be drenched again, so just exaggerating the dominance of the resistant worms.

Finally reflecting on a sojourn to Europe was the huge interest in New Zealand sheep and beef cattle genetics.

I had seen the same happen here many years ago when a British-owned breeding company drenched their sheep with all families available and put them on to a newly converted sheep farm, one with a long history of only dairy cows.

Within a year there were high levels of drench resistance to all families. The power of refugia is never as obvious as in these situations. In Denmark this extreme drench-resistant state will be very difficult to counter because there are no combination products available and the resistant worms are now well spread.

It was no comfort being overseas hearing about the huge lamb losses due to extreme rain on the East Coast and beyond. Such losses are very depressing but made much worse because there are no actions that can be taken that will counter that threat.

At a lesser challenge, the buffers of adequate feed and good body condition can make a difference, but this year for many those seem to have given no protection. The other negative consequence is public perception, the only saviour being that there is nobody to blame.

Finally reflecting on a sojourn to Europe was the huge interest in New Zealand sheep and beef cattle genetics. The beef cattle one is understandable given that at least our Angus have been selected for more than 100 years in our environment and reflect that in their small size but good production. I am referring here to the true Aberdeen Angus that are here.

With the move to get livestock out of sheds and on to pasture this smaller but productive animal is in demand. The sheep one surprises me. Romney’s do not though because they are a sheep that suits this move to outdoor living. It is the Texel’s that I find strange. I was on a farm in Denmark from which the Texel’s came to New Zealand in 1983. On that farm now they are huge, over muscled and ugly. They want New Zealand Texel’s because they are free moving, not so big and not so muscle bound. In less than 40 years the Texel here has taken on its own form and easy care characteristics. Much the same has happened with Suffolk’s but it is much longer since the New Zealand influence has been applied. While we have selected for easy care they have selected for size and muscle.

The last farm I was on this last trip had sheep with no wool. Selected for a long time for no wool, no foot rot and no worms. No indoor living or shepherded lambing as well. These are the outcome of a bunch of non-traditional farmers who wanted lost cost easy care sheep that did not shed wool.

Bringing in a smidgen of hair sheep genetics gave them the edge over the standard shedding sheep and allowed them to concentrate on the main production traits. Scanning about 180% unsupplemented and aggressively selected for weight gain they surely have a place here?