28 Aug 2015

Father of the Modern Romney

From Country Life, 9:20 pm on 28 August 2015

IMGMike and Holmes Warren at Turanganui. (Below) A 1950's Romney with short legs and a squat body.

At 87 years old Holmes Warren still gets out farming most days on his southern Wairarapa property, Turanganui.

Looking out over his 5000 stud romney ewes, which trace their beginnings on the farm back to 1907, he's seeing an animal vastly different to those he started with nearly 70 years ago.

Back then the romney breed had shorter legs and a more squat looking body, with woolly faces. Breeders were selecting on looks rather than productive traits.

Holmes felt this wasn't  "commercially sensible", so he started putting effort into breeding from twinning ewes, easy lambing ewes and ones with vigor.

It was slow going because fertility isn't a very heritable trait. Gradually however, the number of lambs climbed from one per ewe to one-point-six.

He says easy lambing ewes that were good mothers and who fossicked well on hill country, were much easier to achieve.

By boiling down the carcasses of ewes who needed help with lambing they worked out that a small pelvic opening was the problem.  "So from there on we culled every ewe we had to lamb, heritability was quite high so we got on  top of it quite quickly."  

Holmes Warren's efforts have been rewarded with a 2015 New Zealand Sheep Industry Lifetime Achievement Award from Beef and Lamb New Zealand.  That  organisation describes him as "the father of the modern romney".

It says his work continues to have a strong influence on today's national flock.

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