Animal health plan helps farm rebuild from drench resistance
Confronted with drench resistance on Ruatea, Rob and Alex Foreman implemented a stock management and animal health plan with the aim of returning to, and then exceeding, production levels before resistance affected sheep performance.
Having finished his professional rugby career in 2012, Rob brought his wife Alex and children Nixon, Mac and Tova to Ruatea, taking over management from his parents. Located on the tip of the Puketoi Ranges, east of Pahiatua, the farm is 712 hectares (ha), with 625 ha effective. The contour and soils suit a sheep farm with the Foreman’s running 5,500 stock units.
Noticing sheep performance slipping around three years ago, Rob contacted PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative, Kerry Davidson. “We were seeing poor weight gains in our two tooth ewes heading into mating. Around the same time, Alex and I attended a Wormwise workshop and noted the similarities between drench-resistant lambs and ours,” says Rob.
Kerry organised a drench reduction test with results showing Ruatea had developed resistance to triple combination drenches. He then contacted Andrew Dowling, PGG Wrightson Technical Expert – Animal Production for input in formulating a management plan alongside himself and Rob.
The plan has dramatically changed the farm’s production system as Rob explains. “Originally our sheep and cattle grazed separately. Now, they’re together, across all age groups to lower the worm challenge. We monitor faecal egg counts to give us the confidence to limit drenching our adult sheep. Though if their condition score is low, we will drench to help them reach body condition score 3.”
Rob and Alex use Zolvix™ Plus, Startect and triple combination drenches. This drenching programme allows them to protect the new drenches from resistance developing while preventing the worm burden from rising too high.
The Foreman’s cropping programme incorporates new grass varieties, clover and plantain with the aim of reducing the worm burden youngstock are grazing on. By doing so, Rob says the lambs grow faster, which in turn allows him to sell them quicker. “The less time youngstock are on-farm, the less chance they have of polluting the pastures with worm eggs.”
Initially, after changing the farming system in response to drench resistance, animal performance dropped. Now, Rob is seeing a turnaround and hopes to soon be exceeding previous performance levels without using the same amount of inputs.
Contributing to the farm’s return to pre-resistance production levels is the focus on ewe body condition score (BCS) with the aim of reaching 3 or more going into tupping. They are also purchasing rams from a stud that has low drench inputs, supported by Sheep Improvement Limited figures.
Rob says Kerry is his first port of call regarding pasture renewal, animal health and calf rearing.
“We sit around the table at home and hammer out possible solutions. If we need further advice, Kerry contacts one of the company’s technical team. The relationship I have with Kerry is hugely valuable. He goes above and beyond for us; products are always here on time. For us, relationships are key to our business success.”
“We also really appreciate the contact we’ve had with Andrew Dowling, particularly when we first discovered we had drench resistance. He could see we were struggling financially and mentally and would give us a call to see how we were and to assure us we’d get through it.”
Rob says Ruatea’s five-year plan is to continue to build production and surpass its current 155 percent lambing percentage and have all hoggets mated on-farm.