Episode 13 - Super Sheep
On the next episode, screening 10 June 2018 at 7pm on TVNZ 1:
When it comes to the ultimate taste test, Southland farmer Simon Saunders admits he’s not impartial.
Asked what he thinks about a new composite breed of sheep and the meat they produce, he grins and describes it as amazing. “I might be biased but it’s incredible and we love it.”
To understand how this new product came about, we need to wind the clock back 10 years to when the dairy boom forced sheep off the flats and up into the cheaper hill country.
Farmers producing lambs for the meat market needed a new breed that not only survived, but thrived, in a harsher environment.
Saunders, who farms at Stag Valley near Lumsden, was an early investor in a project that saw a group of farmers team up with one of the country’s leading sheep geneticists, Aimee Charteris.
They found the key traits they wanted in Romneys, Texels, Finns and Perendales and developed a new composite sheep called Headwaters, which are good meat producers and hardy.
He believes they’ve come up with the perfect sheep for steeper country.
“If they can’t handle being out on the hill, then they’re not the sheep we want,” he says.
But it was a chance test result five years ago that produced a potential game-changer for the entire meat industry, with a meat that contained Omega Three fats, seen internationally as a super-food.
It all related to what the sheep were eating. “We found the lambs on chicory produced really high levels of Omega Three. So that was a bit of a cool moment.”
The sheep also have intra-muscular or marbled fat, which makes them juicier and better to eat.
The result is a lamb that grows fast in steeper and less desirable country, but has high levels of intra-muscular fat as well as healthy long-chain omegas.
The government helped fund some of the research, so some data is already publicly available and more will be released in future.
About 50 farmers are now involved in the project, which is continually being refined to strengthen the most desirable traits in the sheep and helps them to get the best out of chicory feed.
Charteris has a favourite saying that sums it up: “Happy soil, happy plant, happy animal.”
The Alliance Group processes the meat and sells it under the Te Mana Lamb label.
At this stage, it’s mainly sold to high-end restaurants in New Zealand and Asia.
Simon Saunders says the new breed is a perfect fit for his 1400 hectare farm.
While his lambs are fattening on chicory down on the flats, he’s surveying a mob of sheep he’s just moved high up in tussock country.
Despite the dry weather, they are healthy and strong. “They are looking fantastic.”
Find out more about Te Mana Lamb here.
Read more about the Headwaters sheep breed here.
Find out more about Alliance Group here.
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