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Farm’s unique history a drawcard

Farm’s unique history a drawcard

Paul Mahoney, general manager of Limestone Downs, a massive dairy, sheep and beef farm that hugs the coast 15 km south of Port Waikato says that it was the unique situation of the farm that mostly attracted him to the roll he’s held for just over two years.

“I have been involved in farming 24 years and it isn’t very often you get the chance to work with a farm carrying such a unique history and one to this day doing so much to further the causes of farming in New Zealand,” says Paul.

Charles Alma Baker bought the property he named Limestone Downs in 1926.

A surveyor by trade Baker had accumulated a sizeable fortune. When he died in 1941 the trustees of his estate in London chose to retain Limestone Downs to ultimately fulfil the intent of Baker’s will – The Furtherance of the Science of Agriculture.

The C Alma Baker Trust, formed in 1981 in discussion with Massey University now governs the development and activity of the farm which has a strong philanthropical bent to it in the form of agricultural scholarships for post-graduate and doctoral students.

“We also offer farmers from the UK, the opportunity to work on the farm for a period of time. Each year, we receive four farmers who each work on the farm for three months. This began in the early 1990s,” explains Paul.

In 2013, part of the farm’s 3,219 hectares was converted to a dairy unit, now home to a herd of 675 crossbred cows. There have been some struggles with the herd, however Paul says that five years on, the dairy unit is beginning to operate well.

“We had more cows than we currently do, however chose to cull the least performing and as a result, with the same feed and input costs, the current herd is producing a lot better per cow as when we were at our peak of 800 cows.”

All calves are reared on the farm, with 190 kept while all the rest go up to the sheep and beef unit. Paul says there are definite advantages in this closed situation, with all stock remaining on the same property.

“It means we sell stock when we want to, not when we have to, because we have the capacity to keep the stock on the farm.”

While the dairy unit is situated on the flats, formerly swamp land drained years ago, the surrounding gentle hills are where the sheep and beef finishing takes place. The sheep and beef operation extends over 1800 hectare effective.

Currently Limestone Downs is running 1200 head of beef and cows and 9,000 sheep. When NZDairy spoke with Paul a visiting UK young farmer had just experienced what it is like to drench 6000 lambs in two days.

“That’s the biggest thing for them, the sheer scale of our farm, compared to back in the UK.”

And while farms are beginning to suffer from the intense heat and lack of rain Paul says thanks to a good late spring the farm was able to harvest a good amount of supplements.

The dairy herd is supplied with additional feed in the form of maize and grass silage topped up with palm kernel on the shoulders.

In his role overseeing all aspects of the farm, Paul says he enjoys interacting with the dry stock and dairy teams on the ground.

“They’re working day in day out with the stock
and I often find they have great ideas as to how to improve a system. It’s a real team effort here.”

Paul reports to a New Zealand Board, from different walks of life, but all with a passion for farming and Limestone Downs.

The Board visits every three months to discuss and update on farm performance while the farm’s London-based trustees visit from time to time.

On 19th February Limestone Downs held its annual open day, an event which will welcome up to 150 visitors. Guest speakers discuss topical issues, including students working on PhD programmes. “There’s a lot of preparation for the day but it’s an event we all very much enjoy hosting.”

This article was brought to you in association with the following businesses…

  • Micheal Vining Contracting
  • ORT Onroad Transport
  • Counties Bulk Haulage
  • Brown & Shanley Bulk Spreading
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