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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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Elite Maternals – New Zealand high index maternal Tefrom sheep launch in Meath

In a move that is believed to be the first time in Ireland, high-index New Zealand ‘maternal and meat’ genetics are available to Irish sheep farmers.

These are from the top 20% of the New Zealand maternal sheep breeding programme, according to sheep breeder, John Keely.

He has branded these sheep as Elite Maternals and is having an open day on Tuesday, September 26th, 2023, at 2pm at his farm in Dunderry, Co. Meath at C15 VC2H.

John is a sheep and beef farmer and while originally a mixed farm, his real concentration has been on sheep breeding with beef as a complimentary enterprise.

He has always been seeking best maternal genetics and has tried many different maternal breeds and crosses.

Having seen the performance of the New Zealand terminal sheep in Teagasc’s INZAC trial, John researched the New Zealand maternal sheep and just four years ago, he imported his first Tefrom sheep.

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Tefrom sheep

Tefrom sheep are a composite sheep developed in New Zealand in the late 1980s.

They were developed to improve the Romney sheep – the most widespread breed in New Zealand.

To these Romneys, the breeders introduced Texel genetics for meat yield and disease resistance and East Freisland genetics for milk and fertility.

This has resulted in a very high-performing dual-purpose sheep, according to the Meath-based farmer.

New Zealand farmers have to work in a low input and non-subsidised environment.

Management and data recording 

He told editor, Catherina Cunnane: “With 80% of the profit of a sheep enterprise coming from the ewe, sheep breeders have taken the sensible approach to profitability and put a huge effort into selecting for maternal traits.”

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

As part of this, every lamb born on the farm is weighed and tagged at birth and assessed for their speed to get up and suck.

The ewes’ mothering ability, milk etc. are recorded at lambing, while the lamb’s health, growth and functionality are recorded several more times during their life and only the best are kept for replacements.

SIL, the New Zealand sheep breeding programme, is seen as the world’s leading breeding programme and in the last 30 years, the Kiwis have halved the ewe flock (to 27 million) but the lamb meat production per ewe has doubled.


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

He continued: “The ewes lamb quickly and easily, they are calm but very attentive to the lambs and are very good at keeping the lambs close.”

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

“The lambs are lively and healthy and grow well and for a maternal sheep, they flesh very well.”

“One big difference is that they do not suffer the post-weaning check that we are used to in Irish sheep.”

“In terms of disease, they have better worm and footrot resistance and in terms of management, they are easier to drive and herd, and flow better through handling systems.”

“Moreover, the ewes are a moderate sized sheep with high productivity, efficiency and profitability.”

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

“In terms of what we are used to, these sheep are a ‘game changer’,” he concluded.

Format of open day:

  • Background on ‘Elite Maternal Sheep’
  • Flock viewing;
  • Limited number of high maternal index rams available;
  • Light refreshments.

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