Lurching from drought to flood in North Otago has tested Blair Smith’s sheep and beef stud breeding programme.

The kids were enlightening me yesterday that 2020 was the Chinese Year of the Rat, probably an appropriate zodiac name for a year like that. There were certainly plenty of rats circulating both pre and post election – sniffing around for some ministerial power while breeding and feeding incompetence far and wide.

It also happened to be the year that failed to give us any rain for seven months, and then rewarded our patience with more than half our annual rainfall in the last three days of December. The line ‘there is nothing more useless than an average’ is bang on, as in theory we ended up with our long term average rainfall, but it was the driest stint in over 40 years.

Anyway, the optimist somewhere in me says that seasonal extremes are the perfect opportunity for a stud breeder to see how resilient their breeding programme really is, especially under our nil-drench sheep regime. We are always promoting the fact that Newhaven Perendales and Fossil Creek Angus are run under ‘genuine commercial conditions’. With five tough years in a row, I should be jumping for joy and it is a good test for both man and beast.

I’m always amused when I hear farm consultants singing the praises of mass terminal siring – while conveniently forgetting that someone has to keep breeding quality replacements with a high selection pressure. I’m equally amused by the premium prices those previously ‘advised’ farmers are then prepared to pay for decent breeding stock a few years later.

One of the best buzzes you can get is seeing hoggets or heifers on farms that have stuck to their knitting – producing breeding stock with constitution, conformation and consistency. We field a number of calls from farmers looking for replacement stock with our bloodlines, simply because they know our ram clients have remained focused on good old fashioned stockmanship.

At the same time, they are using a massive amount of genetic data to make sure that their stock doesn’t just look good, but is superior. DNA testing and genomics have pushed genetic gains even further and I honestly think those that have been stubborn enough to persist with crossbred wool quality will be rewarded in the next three to five years. Hang in there.

Thanks goes to farmers that are training up a number of young cadets on their farms through one of the many farmer-led initiatives, we need to see more of this. We have two lads onfarm that are a product of the Waitaki Boys High School Fraser Farm programme along with a student under the ‘gateway’ programme. We see North Otago, with our three boarding schools and supportive employers, as a future Ag Training hub region.

The past month has seen a strong ram selling season completed and good scanning results in our cows and heifers (100% pregnancy rate in our 80 second-calving R3 heifers from a 52-day bull window).

This is despite these girls only being offered the equivalent of cardboard (dry feed) for the entire lead-up and bulling period. So if we could order some autumn rain, things would shape up well for 2021.

Most males will be familiar with the saying that you can either be happy or you can be right – not both. The tricky thing about working with your spouse is that you’re under constant threat of a coup, a strike or worse still, the high chance of her walking home from the yards and taking the only decent dog you have with her.

A friend said to me the other day; “Don’t worry, whenever you think that males are losing our place in society, just remember that whoever is in charge of the drafting gate, is the one in charge”.

All was boding well for me to remain at the helm of the Newhaven ship, until I looked up one day during a screaming norwester in the dusty sheep yards and realised that it was Jane that had a firm grip on the drafting gate, not me. However, all is not lost – Jane, Jacinda and Judith are now top of my list for naming the next wayward huntaway pup.