(excerpted from a speech given by Mr. Rupert Martin
to the International Congress of Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders
Printed here with permission by Mrs. Rupert Martin)
"I was the manager of the company farm in Nelson which took 5000 acres (2020 hectares) of waste and scrub land to pasture. We went from no stock to running 6000 ewes and replacements, which gave us a flock of 12,000 head to shear. We also farmed 2000 cattle.
With such large stock numbers we had stock health problems, often in a big way, which were difficult to get on top of. The main problem was grass staggers.
I knew cider vinegar was used on horses, but no-one would tell me why. So in desperation one day when I had two young lambs dehydrated and down with grass staggers, I decided to try the cider vinegar on them.
When I told the makers of the vinegar what I had in mind they said to be careful, and to dilute the vinegar a bit.
I gave the lambs a cupful each and the next day they were up and grazing. So I gave them a bit more for luck.
That was in February - our summer was very hot and we had drought conditions. Much to our surprise in May these two lambs were in better condition than the rest, except that they had a break in their wool.
This led us to do some trial work. In our first trial we drenched the sheep once a month from weaning in November to shearing the following October.
We had four groups, and kept the wool of each group separate. The wool was all sold by auction, and the wool from the sheep drenched with cider vinegar made NZ$1.43 a head more than the rest.
We were getting quite excited with our find but no one would believe us. Still, we carried on using more and more of the vinegar.
At this time I was lambing 2600 two-tooth ewes and I believed they were deficient in iodine. I mixed minerals in with the cider vinegar and drenched just before lambing.
During lambing in previous years I was going around the sheep three or four times a day, and assisting up to 14 ewes per round.
The very first time after we had used the minerals mixed in with the cider vinegar, we reduced our problems at lambing down to assisting only two ewes per day. The lamb death rate was reduced by a massive 80 percent.
Well, this was good news for us, and for the next 15 years we drenched our sheep three weeks before the rams went out, and then six weeks before lambing. We drenched the ewes again at three weeks before lambing, and found the results were very good.
I was asked to speak at the local branch meeting of the Black and Coloured Sheep Breeders Association on stock health. I joined the association, and felt I had something to offer.
Stock health problems and marketing of our coloured ewes were then the two main problems to deal with.
I had a few coloured sheep, and their wool was given to friends and staff. I started using a coloured ram over the ewes, and found that the quality of the stock was a problem too. Although some good fleeces were produced, there were many rejects. So I decided to drench every month with 20cc of cider vinegar per sheep.
The results were amazing. We shore in May, and sold more wool in a day than we expected to sell in a year from our wool shed operation.
That went on for two and a half days, and sales have been steady ever since.
We found that cider vinegar seemed to help disperse the grease in the wool right along the fibre, making it softer and easier to shear.
I still couldn't convince people that what I was doing was good, so I bought vinegar and gave it to friends to try. It took a long time to get going, but when the news media took an interest, it just took off.
This spurred me to do more research. We found grass staggers disappeared altogether in sheep; sleepy sickness was easily cured. Scouring in calves was also easily cured. In fact, any disorder the animals had, appeared to benefit from the cider vinegar.
When I first started out with the coloured wools, the natural coloured skins had no value. But the first shipment of pelts I sent to be tanned were all stolen. That proved they were worth something, so I kept going. The next shipment got through alright.
They were quite easy to sell so we bought in skins and sheep for slaughter. We found we could produce the skin okay, but had up to 30 per cent of the skins grading out as seconds.
That was too high, with the quality only good to average.
After looking through the tannery and inspecting the skins we found that to produce variations in colours, and to obtain large skins we had to use skins from older sheep.
Then I discovered the skins which I had bought in were not as good as my own. That led me to believe cider vinegar was playing a part in giving us quality skins.
Now we prefer to condition the sheep on our own farm before slaughter, and rejects are down to one percent or less. Our sheepskins just sell themselves.
With the number of skins we were producing, we had to market the meat.
For years friends had been telling us there was 'something' about Redwood Valley meat - it was sweeter. No one knew why they liked it but they did, and our customers just grew and grew.
We were now at a stage where we could sell the meat faster than we could sell the skins....
I have found that marketing wool, skins and meat of coloured sheep very easy, especially with the help of cider vinegar. We have to remember in our marketing that quality is the main criteria."
I am sorry to report that Mr. Martin is now deceased and I want to thank his wife for providing me with the text of this speech..
Grass Staggers (hypomagnesaemia) or "lactation tetany" is an acute disorder characterised by sudden death and caused by low levels of magnesium in the blood.
1) young, rapidly growing spring grass can be low in magnesium
2) individual ewes vary in their ability to absorb magnesium
3) nitrate fertilizers increase the protein in the grass which in turn produces excessive amounts of free ammonia in the rumen, lowers rumen pH and depletes carbohydrate. The imbalance of carbohydrate to nitrogen may depress appetite, making matters worse.
4) lush spring grasses pass thru the intestines very quickly, which allows less time for the magnesium to be absorbed
5) magnesium may be less available in acid soils
6) the level of sodium in fertilized fields is low, which means that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the rumen is upset.
Clinical signs usually last for only a short time, therefore the shepherd may only find a dead ewe.
1) stiff, stilted walk - often with the head held high
2) nervous twitching of the face muscles and frequent urination
3) exaggerated alarm to noise or to the sucking of the lambs
4) being gathered and caught is particularly stressful and may precipitate convulsions and death, so ewes must be approached with care
5) sheep will develop a "wild-eyed" look and appear to be blind, grind their teeth and eventually go down. They usually lie on their side with the legs stretched out straight, their head thrown back and the neck rigid.
For more information on this, please consult Dr. David Henderson's book "The Veterinary Book for Sheep Farmers" from which this is excerpted.