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Breeder produces superior lambs

Posted at 8:00am Wednesday 16 Jun, 2021

Susan Meszaros is a geneticist, breeder and also owns a horse feed software business.
Susan Meszaros is a geneticist, breeder and also owns a horse feed software business.

Susan has developed her land to sustainably provide for her animals.
Susan has developed her land to sustainably provide for her animals.

Makarau geneticist Dr Susan Meszaros and partner Karyn Maddren, of Streamlands Suffolks, have a novel approach to breeding their ewes and rams. They do DNA tests on each of their sires to breed for genes that promote survival and resistance to disease.

One of the genes they select for controls the amount of “brown fat” that lambs are born with around their kidneys.

When lambs are born, their mothers lick them and it stimulates the conversion of fat into energy, providing an instant kick-start.

“The more fat, the more energy. It encourages them to get up and want to feed from their mother,” Susan says.

There are three different variations of the gene, labelled as A, B and C, and the A “allele” of the gene provides the best chance of survival.

The Streamlands Suffolk flock is bred to an extent that almost all the animals have at least one A allele of the gene, while none have the inferior C allele.

They also do DNA tests for genes that resist footrot. Susan says the same genes are also found in humans and play a role in resistance to various diseases.

A DNA test is done by making a small cut behind a sheep's ear and collecting a sample with blotting paper, which is sent to Lincoln University in Christchurch.

Another unique aspect to Streamland's approach is that they keep lambs with their mothers in a pen for 48 hours after they are born, instead of keeping them in a paddock.

This technique comes from Susan's origins as a sheep farmer in Canada where lambs have to be protected from minus 40 degree temperatures.

It allows Susan and Karyn to keep a close eye on the lambs and ewes, and record their traits including birth weight. They are also trying to breed ewes that have the best mothering instincts and produce a steady supply of milk.

Farmers buy Streamland Suffolks' rams to breed with their Romneys or Perendales to produce faster growing lambs that are ready to sell by Christmas.

Susan and Karyn have also developed their land to allow it to sustainably provide for their animals.

Famed author and agro-ecologist Nicole Masters visited the farm and provided recommendations that they implemented. They built new fences which partitioned 11 paddocks into 30. This means that each mob of sheep can be moved to a new paddock each day.

Susan and Karyn shift the sheep before they are able to graze the grass down to soil level. Longer grass supports longer roots and is able to regrow much faster. It also protects the soil from drying out.

They have also been trying to introduce as many species of grass to their paddocks as possible, as it increases biodiversity in the soil, creating more productive top soil. Susan says 12 or more species is ideal.

Streamland Suffolks sells its breeding stock to farmers all over the North Island. It was producing between 250 and 300 lambs in a season, but has been significantly knocked back by drought and Covid-19 interruptions. Now it expects to produce about 150 lambs in July and 30 in September.

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