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Small gains add up on family farm

Kim Stewart Nov 11
Small gains add up on family farm
PHOTOS: Young Henry Morrison gets among the action on the family farm at Marton. Dad, Richard (below) has been on the family farm for 20 years but the property has been in the Morrison name since 1864.

The Morrison farm situated north of Marton has been in the family in one form or another for 155 years since the first Morrison bought the original farm back in 1864.

In the past it’s been sheep and beef with a bit of dairy in the mix, but these days it’s more streamlined, as Richard explains.

“Once upon a time all sheep and beef farms had a few dairy cows and pigs and cropping and a bit of everything so we were no different. We stopped dairying in the early 60’s and we haven’t been tempted back since.”

Richard’s been on the farm himself for 20 years.

“When I started my farming career the dairy boom started soon after. We could have turned the good land into dairy but the rest wouldn’t have been economically sustainable, so we went with the skill set that we knew and committed to that.”

Morrison farming now has a straight hill country farm of 900 hectares, 800 effective, where they keep all their breeding ewes and breeding cows, and a 600 hectare finishing farm, about 500 effective, where they finish their lambs, do all of their cropping, grow their bulls, and do their hogget lambing as well as their heifer calving.

They winter 17,000 stock units which is a 50/50 sheep and beef split both in stock numbers and as a source of income.

As Richard says, “all the young valuable stock are down the fl at end of the farm. We sell about 6000 lambs a year and about 280 bulls, primarily as service bulls to the dairy industry. They’re our main sale item but we also sell a few service rams as well as the ewe hoggets and ewes and prime heifer beef and cows for processing.”

At the core of the Morrison farming philosophy is a belief that small gains are important.

“It goes back to the idea that 5% more income means 50% more profit on a sheep and beef farm, so little improvements can be quite significant for farm profitability,” says Richard.

The Morrisons put that equation to work through their passion for genetics.

“If you get your breeding programmes right you can make a 2% gain each year and it’s cumulative so in 10 years time you can have 20% better quality, productive livestock. So that’s a gain that you can put into your system year on year.”

On the farm the Morrison’s focus on genetics translates into lots of performance recordings of both sheep and cattle.

“We do a lot of selection and breeding towards better cattle for ourselves but it’s also a good product for service bulls for the dairy industry,” says Richard.

“We breed for easy-calving, low birth-weight cattle with the capacity to grow into really good beef.”

They make the same use of performance data with their sheep to achieve their goal of breeding a composite, easy care sheep, sold as “Ezicare”.

Un-like more traditional practices the Morrison farming approach largely ignores the fleece.

“A good sheep’s a good sheep but for us it’s about the meat production and taking away as many of the costs as we can. So things like once a year shearing and selecting for no belly or crutch wool. So very little dagging and that sort of thing. Most of our lambs go to the works without being shorn which is a massive saving in itself.”

Small gains add up on family farm

While they’re bred to keep production costs to a minimum the Ezicare flock have the additional benefit of being well positioned for the current consumer desire for environmentally friendly, sustainable farming .

“So facial eczema seems to be getting worse each year but we’re using genetics to deal with it rather than putting more zinc down their throats; and internal parasites are becoming more of an issue with resistance an increasing problem and we believe genetics is the answer to that rather than finding a new drench. I guess the net result is that they are a bit more of a natural product.”

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