11 Aug 2017

Do Ewe Baa English?

From Country Life, 9:32 pm on 11 August 2017

James and Lisa Thomson run 2,400 fast growing Ile de France-cross ewes on 1,300 hectares between Christchurch airport and the Waimakariri River.

The sheep are well suited to the dryland riverbed-type country in Canterbury.

The breed was developed in 1832 in the Ile de France region around Paris by crossing Dishley Leicester rams with Merino ewes. Fifty years of cross-breeding resulted in a stable breed now known as the Ile de France.

"I was attracted by their fast growth rate. We get really dry by November, so I needed sheep that I could sell early and I needed hoggets that would get up to weight in the autumn easily, and I really like the big meaty sheep that they are," James says.

After having made a pilgrimage to Otago for the past five years to pick up Ile de France stud rams,  James and Lisa have shown their belief in the breed by buying the stud with Omihi Valley farmers Jean and Robert Forrester.

The Forrester's Canterbury farm is in recovery mode following three years of serious drought.  Jean is confident the breed will perform well on their 478-hectare dryland beef and sheep finishing property.

"We've just got our first cross of Ile de France Romney lambs on the ground this year so it'll be interesting to see how they go."

The Thomson's Ile de France sheep have recently been shorn and James is happy with the results. The wool from the commercial flock of hoggets has averaged 27.5 microns.

 "It's whiter and brighter that I expected and I think there's a lot of potential for crossing this breed over other breeds, be it finer wool or coarser wools," he says.

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Jean Forrester and James Thomson Photo: RNZ Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

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