West Otago’s ‘brilliant’ sheep

A West Otago couple’s farm is limited by a lack of finishing country, but they are using good sheep genetics and feed strategically. By Terry Brosnahan.

In Livestock15 Minutes
Central Otago farmers Todd & Amanda Perkins. Monday 8 May 2023. Photo: Chris Sullivan/Countrywide Magazine

High and faster growth rates are what counts for champion sheep growers Amanda and Todd Perkins.

The Tapanui couple recently won this year’s Country-Wide West Otago Two-Tooth competition.

Todd (56) puts the win down to good genetics and feed. The mixed-aged ewes and two-tooths are run together with scanning about 181% without flushing. The hoggets scan 70%, but the rams go out for only one cycle. Half the hoggets in lamb produce twins.

One of the competition judges, stock agent Shaun Tauti says the type of country the sheep are in, the stocking rate and the production all added to the win. The farm runs from 140m at the house to 600m above sea level, from rolling paddocks to extensive hill country.

Shaun says most impressive was the performance, the lambing percentage and lambs sold.

“It was a very well-rounded flock, brilliant sheep.”

The Perkins scored 92.7 points out of 100 with 57.7 for performance, 22 for flock evenness and 13 for breeding objective. The runner up Mike Power scored 90.7.

The couple also came runner up in the West Otago ewe hogget competition, which was won by Sam and Liz Barton.

The Perkins run 3100 Romney-Coopworth cross ewes, 900 replacements and 120 breeding cows on 770ha (700ha effective).

Amanda works as office manager for Stuart Timber in nearby Tapanui three days a week and helps out on the farm.

None of their three children, Sam (25), Izzy (23), and Hannah (27) with two children, are farming but who knows what may happen. Todd’s brothers Glen and Scott came back to farming when they were 30 and 40ish.

At least 90% of the ewes are pregnant in the first cycle. The hoggets are lambing 70%.

The two-tooths are not lambed separately and over the whole flock it’s been 151% for the past five years, with usually about 4800 lambs tailed. This year, 100 ewes were dropped because of the dry summer, but the autumn has been good. Usually they mate all 900 hoggets.

Amanda says they ran Perendales for 15 years but changed in 2011.

Todd says the Perendale were great sheep, but after reaching 140% lambing, others were achieving 150% and he wanted to make use of hybrid vigour. They also wanted something less active as the couple got older.

“When you came into a paddock they would take off and mismother,” Amanda says.

They opted for Simon Carthew’s Tumeke Farming’s Romney-Coopworth cross and put his rams over the Perendales.

Hybrid vigour burst lasts

The hybrid vigour lifted the lambing by 10–12% and has been maintained.

Todd says the cross is a compact sheep, and like the Perendales they are good foragers on the hill country. They buy all their rams from Tumeke farming.

Rams go out to the terminal ewes on April 5, the main mob of ewes on April 18 and the hoggets, May 30. The hoggets only have the ram for one cycle and start lambing in late October, early November.

The terminal mob starts lambing in the first week of September and the main mob on the 13th. They use a Suffolk Supreme cross over the terminal ewe mob, a Lamb Supreme over the hoggets.

“They’re a bit like a Perendale – they fall out and up, wanting to go.”

Todd says out of hoggets in lamb, half of them have twins.

“The hoggets handle it, but you have to really feed the twins well.”

Tailing is in late October for the ewes, early December for the hoggets.

Many of the terminal mob ewes lamb on red clover and the weaned lambs go straight back on to it in early December.

The rest of the ewes in the paddocks, older and triplet bearing, are weaned about December 20. The hill ewes, singles and second cycle, are weaned about January 10.

Todd says weaning has become more flexible with good quality feed and not being so set on a fixed date.

Based on a five-year average, 50% of the lambs are sold store due to the lack of finishing country, but it is weather dependent. This year, fewer lambs were finished because of the dryness. The Perkins kill the bulk of their freezer ewes before Christmas and hopefully before the schedule falls.

They kill their lambs through Blue Sky Meats and last year averaged $129/lamb (works and store).

This year they expect to average $104/lamb because they only killed about 1300 lambs and the rest went as stores.

“This is probably the driest summer and the best autumn we’ve had,” Todd says.

Input costs soar

The drop in farmgate prices might have been more palatable if the farm input prices hadn’t risen so dramatically. The biggest cost is fertiliser.

DAP has doubled over the past two years. Interest rates have almost doubled in the past 18 months.

Sulphur super is flown on to the steep hill country and gullies every fourth year to keep the cost down. The Olsen P in the rolling paddocks is in the mid 20s and the pH6.

Spreader trucks are used on easier country. About 250kg/ha of 20% Sulphur super is applied to paddocks annually.

The Perkins have a pasture renewal programme with a paddock renewed about every 10 years. It is part of a cropping rotation in which about 40ha of winter crops are grown.

About 20ha is double cropped, drilled in swedes and sown in kale the following year.

It used to be 50ha, but in the past four years they have also been sowing short-term ryegrasses: about 50ha of Feast, a tetraploid Italian, and Shogun, a tetraploid hybrid, to reduce the amount of winter crop, which lowers costs and gives more flexibility. Todd wanted to reduce the time a paddock was out of action between swedes and sowing kale.

These grasses can also extend the seasons.

“They grow further into the autumn/early winter and start earlier in the spring.”

The Perkins use cultivation, direct  drilling and a helicopter for sowing the grasses.

A helicopter will spray off a hill paddock in November and then seed it.

Todd says they get great results from direct drilling the grass after red clover. About 20ha/year of just red clover is grown for finishing works and ewe lambs.

He says there are no problems with bloat.

They have a short growing season, but when it grows there is a huge amount of dry matter.

“Quality feed and high weight gains.”

Todd likes the versatility of red clover and unlike other crops such as rape, the lambs can go straight on it.

Amanda says they started to fence waterways about 10 years ago to make the farming operation easier.

“Not because we had to.”

The paddocks have a creek at the bottom and a hill up the other side. The ewes would lamb on the hill then come back through the creek with the lambs and they’d fall and drown.

They started fencing the worst paddocks and kept going.

“You can’t do it all in one year,” Amanda says.

They have planted mainly toi toi for shelter in fenced-off creek areas which have grown well. They are also planting trees for shelter.

Animal welfare comes first

A stock water scheme was put into a block they used to lease and later bought. Once it was in, 90% of the stock kept out of the waterways.

The water comes from the Moa Flat scheme and when Amanda and Todd first took over the farm in 2001 there was just one water tank. Now there are five 30,000 litre tanks.

Like most farmers they still need to be able to give stock access to waterways if the water scheme fails.

“Animal welfare is the number one concern,” Amanda says.

Most of the hill blocks’ stock water comes from springs and the intensive paddocks have troughs.

Amanda and Todd run 120 Angus Hereford cross beef cows and sell most calves at the Mt Benger weaner calf sale. A handful of small calves are wintered.

They buy in replacement in-calf heifers.

After weaning, the ewes are rotated around the hills, except this year because the dry feed ran out. Luckily the good growth in November allowed them to make extra balage and that fed the ewes.

Todd says they don’t usually make much balage because of the steepness of the hills.

“In winter the best place for a tractor is in the shed.”

The ewes used to be shorn annually, but last year feed was tight in autumn so Todd decided to shear in April before the ram went out, rather than June when there was little feed.

So they were shorn in January this year and then will be back to annual shearing in June because of the price of wool and shearing cost.

Todd says shearing once a year did not affect scanning rates or wool colour. They shear ewes in June to avoid yellowing, which they got through shearing in January.

The hoggets are shorn at the end of September/early October. The ewes go on to a crop in August and spend four to five weeks on it. They then have a week or to two on grass.

Todd checks the paddocks for casts but leaves the hills alone. With the high scanning rates there are not many single-bearing ewes. They twin-bearing ewes go up the hill, older ewes, the triplets and hoggets stay in the paddocks.

Flystrike has become worse on the farm but the Perkins have their own jetting race and are able to treat the sheep with Cyrex as they bring them into the yards. If they relied on a contractor all the sheep would need to come in together. Todd hasn’t seen lice for years.

Drench resistance monitored

Faecal egg counts are taken and reduction tests showed some resistance in the white and clear drenches.

“The rest were looking good and we will keep monitoring,” Todd says.

When the hoggets come back from grazing off farm they get a quarantine drench, Zolvix or Startech. The Perkins alternate their drenches, Cydectin and a triple. Their animal health regime is standard, a toxo, campy and Depodine (iodine). Any vaccines have selenium in them.

“They get too light, they go to the works.”

After weaning they will condition score, especially the hoggets, and preferentially feed the lighter ones. They tend to be the ones that reared twin lambs.


  • Changed breeds to push performances
  • Highly fertile sheep, 181% scannings
  • Mate hoggets, half twin lambs
  • Using grasses more, less winter crops
  • Condition scoring, drench monitorings
  • Doing the little things well.