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The Omega Lamb Project and Te Mana Lamb – giving the best of both worlds at Dome Hills

“Being part of The Omega Lamb Project really gives you the best of both worlds,” says Headwaters farmer Ben Douglas, who with father David, farms the 6,000ha high country Dome Hills station in North Otago.

“My father tried various breeds in the past but we’ve found the Headwaters sheep is definitely superior for our type of farming. We’re very happy with their resilience and their performance. Then you have a whole other side, with the special qualities of the Omega lambs, the omega 3, the good intramuscular fats and the exceptional flavour and texture.”

The 100 per cent Headwaters flock was already established at Dome Hills when Ben returned to the station with wife Sarah six years ago, following his university studies and then a banking career in New Zealand and London.

“Most farm kids do stuff on the farm but I wasn’t interested when I was younger,” he says. “But eventually I realised I needed to make a decision about whether I wanted to be involved and the only way to make a qualified decision was to experience it. We came for a 12-month ‘trial’ and we’re still here.”

A steep learning curve ensued and being part of The Omega Lamb Project was a major part of that. David has been involved with the programme for about 12 years, initially attracted by the prospect of better performing hill country sheep.

The station has been in the family since 1919 and the land ranges from flat paddocks to steep rolling hills and mountains. They have 7,500 headwaters ewes and 400 beef cattle.  They are breeders and finishers and this year plan to finish 9,000 lambs, including 4,000 Omega Lambs – sired by rams from the programme – their highest number to date.

“We are passionate about the programme,” says Ben. “Obviously, I came into it after my father but we believe that it has taught us to be better farmers.

“It’s a high-performing system – chicory is a high performance feed. Previously, we were not doing anything like the electronic ear-tagging, the life-time traceability or the automatic drafting – the lambs’ weight is recorded every time they come through the yard.

“There is also a huge body of work behind The Omega Lamb Project, so much scientific studies have been done. There is no way you could gain all that knowledge as individual farmers – but that all comes as part of the programme. All the work is done, so you benefit from that.”

Ben says the chicory clover mix is very good feed, their lambs respond well to it and they are growing it successfully on a dry land farm, without irrigation.

“I would absolutely encourage other farmers to find out more about the programme and consider being part of it,” he says.

“For us, it is about sheep that are resilient and performing well under tough conditions but the paddock to plate relationship you have through the programme is very important too. Farming is hard work, there are a lot of challenges, so it helps to be producing something where you know where it’s going, and which is building a reputation as an exceptional New Zealand product.”

 

Ben Douglas Sarah Douglas holding Arthur Douglas Brian Guthrie holding Bertie Guthrie