Terry Brosnahan

In 1992 the Hubber family’s sheep farming operation at Drummond in Southland was hit by drench resistance.

At the suggestion of a vet, they had a drench reduction test done. Results showed that against Roundworm, the clear drench Nilverm was only 85% effective and Pancur, a white, didn’t kill any.

“We wanted to carry on sheep farming so we had to do something big time,” Andrew Hubber says.

At the time Andrew had been married to Mary for eight years and he was farming the 255-hectare farm in partnership with his father Les Hubber.
One of the first things they did was selecting ewe lambs based on a low faecal egg count (FEC) using their own testing kit they made up themselves. They still use it today.

The ewe lambs with low counts were put to their best rams.

“It was a big job as we had about 1000 hoggets,” Mary says.

They also stopped drenching the ewes and Andrew says some struggled, but it worked. The ewes are used as a vacuum cleaner on the pastures.
Two years later the Hubbers changed ram breeder, opting for Murray Rohloff who was known to be breeding for resistance to worms. The lambs were drenched with an Ivomectin and later combination drenches when they came in.

When drench resistance hit the Hubbers’ farm in Southland in 1992 quick action was required.

A thousand out of 1500 ewe lambs with low worm burdens were selected after normal culling and FEC testing.

They did it for five years then relied on Murray’s rams.

Initially they were laughed at and told they couldn’t breed for resistance, but they had been interested in the subject before the “big slap in the face”.

Back then there wasn’t the internet and a lot of information about it, but a small article in a farming paper on breeder Gordon Levett’s work on breeding for worm resistance gave them heart. They initially considered flying up to see him but never did, which they regretted. Instead they stuck to their own programme.

For the next 10 years worm resistance was a top priority. Now it is not the only focus as they still have to chase lambs and meat.

Their ram breeder is now Andrew Tripp who took over Murray’s stud.

Andrew Hubber says rams will be selected for fertility and survivability but if there are 15 rams and only 10 are needed, worm resistance is the next priority. They are surprised more farmers don’t care or ask about the worm status they are buying. Even though they have confidence in Andrew they will always ask what a ram’s worm status is.

Before 1992 they used to drench every three weeks. Now the lambs only get three drenches in their lifetime. No hoggets or ewes are drenched.

Even though the lambs in the terminal sire mob are from Andrew’s black face rams which are not bred for worm resistance, they have the same drenching pattern. The same for lambs from 114 ewes brought in last year.

Andrew puts it down to fewer larvae on the pasture.

When the Hubbers buy store lambs they give a quarantine drench.

The Hubbers also own a dairy farm 3km away which has a contract milker and milks 430 cows. Five years ago they reduced the number of breeding ewes from 3700 to 1600 to feed more cows and run heifers.

They thought there would be more integration of the dairy with sheep to help pasture management and worm control but it hasn’t worked out that way. The dairy cows stay on the feed crops. The R1 heifers are run on a drier part of the farm so as not to damage soils and are kept within electric fences.

Andrew says young calves come after Christmas and rotate around with the sheep.

Mary says the impact of the dairy might be disguised by the high worm burden in the district in recent years due to drought followed by a flush of feed.

Wool prices test patience

Don’t mention the wool price to Andrew. They have three years’ of wool sitting in a shed. As a shearer Rob gets to see a lot of flocks. The quality is often poor, especially the composites’ fleeces with their black spots. Yet the Hubbers’ good wool is not worth much more.

“Wool is still important but how long do you carry on.”

They shear once a year.

Andrew says the farm is too exposed for pre-lamb.
The deal this winter was for Andrew and Mary to help Robert by shifting the electric fence breaks when he was away shearing. The shearing gang had so much work on that apart from the few days off, Andrew and Mary were shifting breaks all winter.

Andrew and Mary’s son Robert (25), a shearer, started leasing the sheep farming operation on April 1 this year.

He is running 1640 Romney ewes, 450 hoggets and with his partner Courtney, rearing about 130 calves.

Andrew and Mary look after the 330 cows wintered on the farm and 95 heifers.

They start lambing August 28 and usually wean December 18. The lambing has reached 158% to the ram, but Southland weather makes it a fickle time. Last year it was down due to the theft of 60 ewes which they didn’t notice until counting out the ewes for spreading out.

At their weaning draft last year on December 21, 30% of the male lambs went away.

“We never ever look at ewe lambs at a weaning draft,” Andrew says.

At lambing they will go around the ewes four times a day so when their daughter Julia (22), a fourth-year medical student comes home on a break, the extra pair of hands are welcome. Their eldest son William is a construction project manager in Atlanta, United States.

Any ewe which needs mothering up gets an ear tag and joins the terminal sire mob. There isn’t a heavy culling policy as Rob is trying to build ewe numbers.

Even though they have planted limited shelter, it is an exposed farm so there are even little sheds in the paddocks to pop ewes and lambs into.

The trick is to know when to drench.

With the lambs, they carry out an FEC test one or two weeks before they drench.

Mary says the lambs get their first drench on the ewes about mid-November which is the hardest one. That’s why the FEC test is so important.

“Are they wormy enough or leave them another week and move weaning back.”

They get another FEC test at weaning and usually give the second drench in January.

As sheep farmers who moved into dairy farming, the Hubbers learned a lot especially about feeding and health and safety. They are surprised the dairy industry isn’t monitoring and controlling drench use. Calves are routinely drenched.

The Hubbers’ animal health bill with the sheep is only $2.30/ewe.
Andrew says the ewes only get Flexidine every second year. The two-tooths get a toxo and campo shot every year, but are never given the booster. The lambs get a five-in-one, but the ewe lambs never get it before going on to the swedes.

Cobalt and selenium are spread on pastures in split applications, twice a year. They don’t even scratch for scabby mouth even though they have thistles. It is not because of any strongly held beliefs, but they simply don’t need to.

“I’m not a greenie,” Andrew says.

They sell their lambs at 40kg which yields about 18.5kg on a per head basis. This year was not so good due to too much grass which swamped the clover. Ewe lambs are taken out early on and kept separate.

The farm grows oats as a catch crop after the swedes and whole crop oats are undersown with Feast ryegrass (making 1500 bales) after the kale.

A reduction test last year showed the white/clear and clear/abamectin combination drenches were effective. Levamisole and abamectin were effective against trichostrongylus, and white drenches have come up to a reduction of 80%.

Andrew and Mary suspect if they started using the drenches again the status would quickly reverse.

They don’t do drench reduction tests often but something they are considering doing more of.

It is easy to see the Hubbers are proud of what they have achieved especially getting on top of drench resistance. Doing so has meant that sheep are still part of the farming operation.