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New farming plan produces major gains

New farming plan produces major gains

Modified farming practices and investing in winter feed have improved returns and revealed new opportunities for East Otago farmer Mark O’Neill.

Mark and his wife Vicki run a mixed farm on rolling hill country at Mt Highlay – 1175 hectares of developed grassland with a further 1400ha of undeveloped tussock lands and steeper hill country at Hyde, near to Macraes and about 40km from Ranfurly.

They run 100 cows (Hereford and Hereford-Angus cross) which are put to a Hereford x Charolais bull, 6700 ewes, mainly Romneys – averaging about 35 microns, and seasonally about 2200 ewe lambs of which he keeps 1700 over to the next year.

About half of the ewes, which he bred himself, go to Romney rams while the others go to terminal sires.

The wool clip averages about 35 microns. A new approach of keeping as many ewe lambs as he can for 12 months from birth through to the following spring has opened options for either adding to his own stock, or for selling as hoggets to other farmers or to the meatworks, says Mark.

The previous cycle of culling out lambs big enough for the works each time he drenched didn’t give the option of growing them on in an abundant season.

As a result the farm has made real headway over the past couple of years which Mark also attributes to leasing an additional 800 hectares and growing and stockpiling winter feed.

Mark said he spent more than $100,000 on buying in feed to get through the winter after a tough dry summer; now he has 2500 round bales tucked away, and he was happy not to have to use it this past summer – the spring had been good and late summer had seen “quite a bit” of rain.

This summer he sold store lambs early but when it rained two weeks later he immediately replaced them by buying in 700 merinos.

He had also improved scanning percentages by up to 15% over the past four years by moving to a six-monthly cycle of shearing – pre-lamb and at weaning.

Annual shearing had led to many losses from ewes becoming cast in the tussock blocks, a double-whammy as that also attracted wild pigs from surrounding forests.

His mixed age ewes are now producing scanning percentages up to 170% while two-tooth ewes are lambing around 155% to 160% – which Mark says are “pretty good results for the higher country.”

Whereas cattle had traditionally “tidied up” pastures in a good spring, they are now treated as a valuable form of income, and the paddocks would be turned into winter fodder by cutting for baleage and silage.

“We make money out of the cattle rather than using them as a tool to get rid of excess feed.”

Mt Highlay is just a stone’s throw from the massive open-cast gold mine of Macraes, New Zealand’s largest gold operation which has produced more than four million ounces of gold since it opened in 2008.

The farm property boasts four original gold mining claims, a man-made concrete dam and other relics dating back to historic gold mining days in gullies, whilst hidden mining shafts can be a challenge to the unwary at mustering time.

It would have been a small thriving settlement back in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s but now the property is home to just Mark, Vicki and their young family, living at 600 metres above sea level in a house that began its life as army huts and was renovated by Mark’s parents who moved to the property 40 years ago.

It’s where he grew up, now as the new generation he’s doing his utmost to farm it in the best way he can. Mark has invaluable help in this from his “wonderful worker” Michael Dodds.

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