A New Zealand (NZ) sheep breed has been labelled an “elite maternal” by a Irish sheep farmer, who is holding an open day at his farm in Co. Meath to showcase the breed.

Sheep breeder John Keely is hosting the open day on Tuesday, September 26, at 2:00p.m at his farm in Eskaroon, Dunderry, Co. Meath, and will show visitors the Tefrom breed.

Keely has branded these sheep as “elite maternals” and said “for the first time in Ireland, high index New Zealand ‘maternal and meat’ genetics are available to Irish sheep farmers”.

The Meath man is a sheep and beef farmer but has concentrated on sheep breeding and has always been on the lookout for the best maternal genetics and has tried many different breeds and crosses.

Keely then researched NZ maternal sheep and just four years ago, imported his first Tefrom sheep.

New Zealand breed

Tefrom sheep are a composite sheep (sheep breeds that were developed by crossing other purebred sheep) developed in NZ in the late 1980s.

They were developed to improve the Romney sheep, a popular breed in NZ.

Breeders introduced Texel genetics for meat yield and disease resistance, and East Friesian genetics for milk and fertility to the Romney.

This has resulted in a very high-performing dual-purpose sheep.

Every lamb born on the farm is weighed and tagged at birth and assessed for their speed to get up and suck, while the ewes’ mothering and milk ability is recorded at lambing.

The lamb’s health, growth, and functionality is recorded several more times during their life and only the best are kept for replacements.

Keely records his sheep on two breeding programmes, Sheep Ireland and Sheep Improvement Ltd. (SIL New Zealand).

Advantages of the breed

Keely has found Tefrom lambs to be lively, hardy and exceptionally quick to get up and suck.

He said the ewe is capable of lambing “quickly and easily” and that “they are calm but very attentive to the lambs”.

“The lambs are well presented, easily born and have a great instinct to find the milk.”

Keely said the lambs are lively, healthy and grow well, and for a maternal sheep, they flesh very well.

They have excellent worm and footrot resistance, and in terms of management, they are easier to drive and herd, and flow better through handling systems, he added.

The Tefrom ewes are a moderate-sized sheep with high productivity, efficiency and profitability, according to Keely.

“You will reduce your labour requirement throughout the year but particularly at lambing, so you can keep more sheep or free up your labour for other aspects of farming,” Keely added.

At the open day, visitors will be able to view the sheep and receive a background of the breed, while a limited number of high maternal index rams will be available on the day.