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Hill country blocks gives business more wriggle room

Hill country blocks gives business more wriggle room
PHOTO: Mustering on hill country in the Maniototo. The Duncan family’s farming operation consists of 250 breeding cows with all the progeny fattened and around 13,000 sheep.

Purchasing more marginal blocks to add into their farming operation is helping the Duncan family in Central Otago to farm more sustainably and safeguard the business, says Johnny Duncan who oversees the management of the family owned farm. The operation consists of two main farms: 2500ha Craigneuk and 2800ha Awatea, both in the Maniototo Plains.

Recently a 1700ha hill block located between the two farms, and a 160ha block near Craigneuk has been added into the mix. Johnny says the family wanted to have more room for stock to spread out to balance the more intensively run flats of their farming operation.

They use the 1700ha hill block for raising hoggets, 2000 ewes are shifted there at weaning and 70 cows calve and are wintered there. As t he family also has shares in a 390ha dairy farm milking 1050 cows located next door to Awatea, the block has allowed them to fatten 100 beef cross calves they obtain from the dairy farm each year.

It also has synergies as they lease their yearling bulls to the dairy farm as well. Johnny says it has been highly successful with steers sent to the works at 300 kilograms and in the late 200 kilograms for heifers.

The smaller 160ha block complements Craigneukand and is used for weaning romney ewes and calving. Johnny says as the cattle and sheep have more space to roam in a more natural state it has reduced health issues.

“Investing in hill country also means that we are not so reliant on our irrigated land. In a mild winter I can winter on the hill country more economically. It’s about moving away a bit from intensive farming. We and our staff also enjoy farming on hill country as we can muster with the dogs etc,” he says.

John and Judy purchased Craigneuk in 1992 and in 1998 Awatea, located just ten minutes down the road. Both farms are run as one. Two thirds of the farms is hill country with irrigated fl at land going down to the Taieri River. The family has 425 shares in the Maniototo West Side Irrigation Company.

The Duncan family’s farming operation consists of 250 breeding cows with all the progeny fattened and around 13,000 sheep. There are 9000 ewes with the remainder made up of ewe, ram and merino hoggets that are fattened for the spring.

A major part of the business is their Dorset Down stud and half-bred ram stud, selling about 650 rams each year. About 250 are sold in the annual January on-farm sale, now in its 18th year, with the balance sold in February.

The Duncan family stock the farm with 150 velveting stags, 60 hinds, 45-50 spikers and 45-50 yearling hinds. All are pure English Red and it’s a family interest with John having deer on the farm since 1979.

The velveting stag’s first cut is about 4.8kgs of velvet, an increase of 300grams since they have been on fodder beet due to better condition. The hinds are kept to a maximum of 4 years old mainly because of genetic gain, which Johnny says continues to improve with the top stags cutting 3.5 to 4kgs in the past and now cutting 7kgs.

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