Quest for quality pays off at Canterbury lamb sale

Poll Dorset breeder George Lowe, from the Windermere stud, near Ashburton, and his grandson Hunter Brook inspect the yarding of Poll Dorset-merino-cross lambs. Photo / Ian McCall
Poll Dorset breeder George Lowe, from the Windermere stud, near Ashburton, and his grandson Hunter Brook inspect the yarding of Poll Dorset-merino-cross lambs. Photo / Ian McCall

Canterbury high country farmers Paul and Kerry Harmer always strive to present the best stock they can.

And that quest for quality was very evident at last week's on-farm lamb sale at Castle Ridge Station in the Ashburton Gorge.

A top quality line-up of more than 8000 Poll Dorset-merino-cross lambs sold in just over 20 minutes to average just under $120. Amid a picturesque location, the top-priced pen of 235 ram lambs sold for $166 while a pen of 418 ewe lambs made $155.

Hazlett Rural Livestock auctioneer Ed Marfell described it as one of the ''premier days'' in the Canterbury sales calendar, saying the lambs were an ''absolute credit'' to the Castle Ridge team.

It was Mr Harmer's father, Peter, who started using Poll Dorset rams several years after buying Castle Ridge in 1992. It was a way to get around the challenging climate and terrain; at lambing time, Poll Dorset-cross lambs were ''up and running'' as soon as they hit the ground and thrived in the environment, Paul Harmer said.

They were a good terminal sire across a merino ewe and it was a quick turnaround, as they were only on the ground for four months before being sold.

The result of the lamb sale vindicated that the breed was ''definitely doing the job'', Mr Harmer said.

All Castle Ridge's mixed-age ewes went to the Poll Dorset while two-tooth ewes were mated to merino rams. The Harmer family has been buying Poll Dorset rams from George Lowe's Windermere stud, near Ashburton, for about 20 years, and they bought 20 rams a year.

When it came to ram selection, Mr Harmer looked for good length, good growth rates and a sheep that was not too wide in the shoulder.

''As soon as you put it over a merino, you're asking for trouble if the shoulders aren't right,'' he said.

Despite the extensive nature of Castle Ridge, they put a lot of effort into lambing time which was a ''fairly intensive'' period for them. Every lamb saved was important as their lamb cheque was almost half their income.

Castle Ridge was just under 6000ha and wintered about 16,000 sheep, 800 cattle and about 250 deer.

The homestead was about 650m above sea level and the climate could go from a good spring to a very hot, dry summer very quickly. Winters could also be quite hard and they grew a lot of winter feed and baleage.

The good thing about the Poll Dorset-cross lambs was they were away early and feed

could be put back into the ewes, Mr Harmer said.

Castle Ridge was originally part of Barossa Station. The Harmers also bought part of neighbouring Clent Hills when it was sold and, when Barossa went through tenure review, they bought what was left of that.

Both Paul and Peter Harmer had worked on Castle Ridge before Peter Harmer bought it. This year marked their 13th annual on-farm lamb sale. Previously, lambs were trucked to Tinwald Saleyards and sold. While they sold ''all right'' there, Mr Harmer felt they could probably present them better at home and keep a better eye on what went on.

PGG Wrightson Mid Canterbury area manager Greg Cook auctions a yarding of ram lambs at Castle Ridge Station.
PGG Wrightson Mid Canterbury area manager Greg Cook auctions a yarding of ram lambs at Castle Ridge Station.

It also prevented the need to truck the lambs to saleyards before the sale.

''I don't really like seeing anything stressed more than it needs to be,'' he said.

For all their stock, they always wanted them to do well for whoever bought them and, from the feedback they were receiving, they were achieving that. But that was no cause to rest on their laurels.

''You're always wanting to keep pushing, to keep things as good as you can. I think once you get a bit of a name going for stock, you want to keep that going. The only way to get that is from feedback from buyers down the line,'' he said.

Straight after the Castle Ridge sale, another yarding of quality Poll Dorset-merino-cross lambs was offered at neighbouring Mt Arrowsmith Station, on the shores of Lake Heron, where the top price was $156 for a pen of 246 mixed-sex lambs.

- Otago Daily Times

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