Development a learning curve
A Wakefield farm dubbed Wantwood, which lived up to its name four years ago, has been radically turned around with the focused efforts of its owners, Simon Vincent and Claire Parkes, supported by their farm manager, Tom Curnow.
The Parkes bought Wantwood four years ago. Simon has an off-farm business and the couple have owned Castledowns, a neighbouring deer unit, since 1996.
Surrounded by hills, bush and three national parks, the farms are a 25-kilometre drive up a valley inland from Nelson.
A 200-hectare property, Castledowns supports iWantwood and is Simon and Claire’s pride and joy. It runs 300 velvet stags, 310 breeding hinds and 700 weaners for finishing.
Following the purchase of Wantwood, a 667ha sheep and beef property, they employed Tom to oversee both operations and to undertake the development needed to create a viable and profitable farm.
His first mission was the farm’s soil, which showed very low Olsen P levels – three to seven compared to an optimum of 20 to 40. “The only good thing on the soil test was the pH,” Tom says.
Soil structure and fertility was developed through annual rotation of summer and winter crops, plus new grass sown at a rate of about 40ha per year during autumn and supplemented by careful application of fertiliser. Four years ago, Wantwood could barely support 1200 ewes.
It now carries 2500 mixed-age romney breeding ewes, and Tom is aiming for 2800 next year; it also supports 750 hoggets, and 108 breeding cows, plus 240 rising-one-year and risingtwo-year fattening cattle.
“In the first year all the ewes were bought in,” says Tom. “There was no base flock to take over, so we had to buy people’s culls; there weren’t too many capital lines of ewes out there.”
Wantwood sourced rams from the Turanganui Romney stud in southern Wairarapa and, after four years of breeding and introducing better genetics, the numbers are looking up.
Lambing has increased from 113 per cent in the first year to 135%, with 145-150% in Tom’s sights.
Apart from the rams having key traits of sound constitution and conformation, a history of good lamb survivability and of producing twins was important.
“I think that’s having a big part to play in the improved lambing performance as well as the new pastures,” says Tom.
“We finish all our lamb, beef and deer progeny as well as buying in store stock for all classes.” “Next year we will be fattening 150 R2 cattle and 130 calves, so the cattle component is also increasing.”
Target liveweights and carcass weights are now being met and, with the quantum leaps needed to boost the farm’s production largely achieved, the priority is ongoing fine-tuning.
Despite the initial challenges, Tom and the Parkes believe the purchase of Wantwood will benefit both farms, and provide more options and the flexibility to capitalise on markets.
Infrastructure development has included 17km of fencing, split 50:50 between sheep and deer fencing to potentially enable deer numbers increase and sheep numbers reduce as market conditions change.
Tom says it has been a learning curve in his first manager’s role, but is pleased with the results of Wantwood’s development.
“I am pretty passionate about the farm and what I am doing. It’s very satisfying to see the outcomes of the ewe flock’s increasing performance and lambs that are hitting their target weights and everything going ahead.”