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Lamb: The Best Protein in the World

03 November 2014

Lamb needs care and attention as a meat so consumers carry on coming back for more, says an award winning New Zealand producer.

Farming, presentation and marketing all need to be optimal in order to achieve the 'best possible eating experience', according to Mark Zino or Zino Holdings.

He thinks that lamb is the best protein in the world. 

Zino Holdings is a Hawarden family farming operation and 2014 B+LNZ Sheep Industry Awards' Blackdale Sheep Industry Suppliers of the Year, supplying to ANZCO Foods. They were also this year's Waitrose Producer of the Year, after many years of being in the top 10.

Mark and wife Rachael farm in partnership with Mark's brother Sam and his wife, Keri. Mark is responsible for the sheep and dairy support strands of the operation, while Sam manages the deer and beef.

Zino Holdings’ ewes are maternal Longdown composites, bred for reproduction, survival and lamb growth rates

The property is 1050ha, made up of 730ha flat land and 320 rolling-to-steep country. It runs 3150 ewes and 1000 hoggets.

The remaining stock units are 130 Stablizer beef cows, 20 in-calf heifers, 740 hinds, 690 Fawns, 650 winter dairy cows, 80 rising-one-year-old heifers and 80 rising-two-year-old heifers. Lambs and stags are traded as grass surpluses allow.

High Performance Drives Sheep Policy

Zinos' sheep are maternal Longdown composites – based on Coopworth/Texel genetics – bred for reproduction, survival and lamb growth rates.

Mark says the sheep policy is simple. It's all about high performance. "We want as many lambs as possible and for those lambs to grow as fast as possible while on their mothers. Lamb growth rates while on the ewes average around 320gms/day from birth to weaning."

Rachael and Mark Zino with Ben and Angus - 2014 B+LNZ award winners

Lambing is split over three dates: the older ewes lamb from 10 August, main ewes from 20 August, and hoggets from 1 September. There is about a 50/50 split in ewes to breeding rams, versus ewes to the terminal sire – a Southdown/White Suffolk cross or pure Southdown. The lambing percentage is 153-158 per cent at weaning for ewes mated and 90-100 per cent for the hoggets.

Zinos use "skim drafting" from early November, taking lambs directly off the ewes, as they reach 40kg. By weaning, immediately before Christmas, 70 per cent of the sale lambs have been processed at an 18.5kg carcase weight average.

The property, which is free-draining and summer dry, relies heavily on sub clover. "Sub clover is our natural capital. It grows like a weed here, so we've just adjusted the species to what we want and it's gone from strength to strength. It's a super food for the ewes."

More recently, Zinos have planted out 70ha in lucerne, specifically to carry the hoggets with lambs at foot from November to weaning in late December.

The operation's stocking rate is not high, at 8.5 ewes per hectare at lambing. "The key is that we keep a close eye on body weight and condition scoring. We aim to go into lambing with 3.3-3.5 condition score on our multiple-bearing ewes. The rest of the year, they average about 3. We identify light ewes and feed them well. Ewes that are well fed have the chance to express their genetics, so they have multiple lambs, can milk well and finish lambs quickly."

Reoccurring Themes

Mark has been involved in Agrinetworks' Stockcare programme for the past nine years and the B+LNZ North Canterbury sheep profit partnership for the past three years. He says a couple of themes are reoccurring: One – in your annual farming year, there are only a handful of points where you can make a real difference. The key times are pre-mating and heading into winter. And – two – if you don't monitor, you don't know where you are or where you are going.

Lambs to Waitrose and Kumanu

About 5000 lambs are finished annually from the ewes and hoggets, while up to 1000 traded lambs may also be finished, if the season allows. About 4000 lambs are committed to ANZCO's Waitrose contract. Zinos have been Waitrose suppliers for the past 14 years and appreciate the mindset change that the contract encourages. "There are expectations and premiums around weight, specification in GR (fat), timing, farm assurance and presentation – but then there's also the information flow back to us, which is really in depth."

Mark and Sam Zino accept the Sheep Industry Awards' Sheep Industry Suppliers of the Year

Another 1000 to 2000 lambs are supplied to the Kumanu Lamb brand – a farmer venture involving about 20 farmers, in partnership with ANZCO. The lambs are processed and shipped by ANZCO and marketed into the Netherlands. The brand is now entering its fourth season and Mark says the future is looking exciting.

"Kumanu Lamb is a philosophy – all built around 'care'. Care for animal welfare, care for our family farm, care for the environment. The slogan is 'the most carefully raised lamb in the world'. Kumanu could be something really special – not just for us farmers who invested, but for New Zealand as a whole. There's a lot of technology around understanding what makes meat really high quality and what's important on farm that affects that quality."

ANZCO agriculture manager Alan McDermott says Zinos' passion for the lamb industry and their awareness of its long-term sustainability make them a true example to others.

"They understand their consumers and farm accordingly, while also farming to their environment. They are well connected to their consumers, their markets and ANZCO. They know what they can control and influence in their business – and they demonstrate that in their consistently high performance meeting contract specifications."