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Lucerne, genetics help lift production

Lucerne, genetics help lift production
Ferniehurst Station has increased its lucerne coverage from four hectares to 140 hectares.

Good genetics, better condition scoring and better feed have contributed to production gains over the last 3 years at North Canterbury’s Ferniehurst Station, despite prevailing drought conditions.

The station is now building on its success. Located just north of the Conway River, 25 minutes north of Cheviot, Ferniehurst Station is home to 5500 Romney ewes, and 250 Angus and Angus/ Hereford cross cows along with all progeny, which are typically finished on farm and sold to Silver Fern Farms.

The 1800-hectare property has been in the Wilding family since the 1930’s and is currently owned by Richard and Catherine Wilding, the third generation to farm the land.

400 hectares of native kanuka, manuka and beech reduces the effective farmland, creating a unique rainforest environment, with native birdlife its welcome inhabitants.

When Richard and Catherine stepped down from day-to-day operational management six years ago after 25 years at the helm, John Fitzgerald became the first manager outside of the family to run the farm.

The couple still live on the property and Richard lends a hand from time-to-time, enjoying a good working relationship with John when it comes to major decisions.

Lucerne, genetics help lift production

Ferniehurst Station has increased its lucerne coverage from four hectares to 140 hectares.


North Canterbury’s well talked about drought along with the Kaikoura earthquake impacted on the farm bringing about change, says John.

“We used to run about 450 breeding cows but we just couldn’t do it any more and decided to sell down – impacting on the number of calves we produced, getting as low as 120 at one stage.”

Reduced calf numbers provided an opportunity to take in trading stock and the farm now looks after 100 two-year-old Friesian bulls and 230 carry-over dairy cows, which helps to fill a financial gap.

Using cousin Tim Wilding’s Te Mania genetics, the station finishes its own cattle as two-year-old steers with a target weight of 320kg.

Johns says that with the help of 12 hecatres of fodder beet, they achieved that target for the first time this season.

“We solely supply Silverfern Farms for both sheep and cattle and have developed a strong relationship with them.

They have the Silver Fern ‘Eating Quality Test’, which adds premium onto the value of the animal. We’ve managed to get a record 85% of the steers accepted whereas the national average is around 30%. So that’s been exciting and something we’re trying to build on.”

With lambing percentages being lifted from 105% to 140% through better condition scoring, John says more feed was required and the station went on a lucerne journey. He says that while the drought was a bit of a hiccup along the way, the plan always was to undertake a large pasture renovation programme.

When he arrived at the station six years ago there was one four-hectare paddock of lucerne. Now there is 140 hectares.

“That’s really the backbone of what we’re trying to build around in terms of the pasture renovation and rebuilding our stock numbers. We’ve probably gone further down the lucerne road than originally intended.

“We targeted one area and it worked so well that we thought – why stop now let’s keep going. The results have been very good and if we hadn’t had it through the drought – well god knows where we would’ve been.”

John says that ewes and lambs are put on lucerne as soon as they can walk, thriving with average weaning weight increasing about 4kg with more room for improvement.

“This season 1600 lambs were killed off mum with a further 2500 to be finished later in the year. Lambs were sold as stores in early December as the price was good.”

Shearing is the next major project on the farm’s agenda with the ewes and ewe lambs being rounded up ready for the main shear just after Waitangi weekend, weather permitting.


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