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Rabbits – ‘they have been horrendous’

Liki Udam May 5
Controlled burn off on the 2600ha Queensberry Ridges, a breeding and finishing property near Wanaka. Wild pigs prove troublesome during lambing and calving and along with rabbits continue to plague the sheep and beef operation.

In the nine years Gavin Morris has been at the helm of Queensberry Ridges, he has waged a war against rabbits and pigs that have plagued the Central Otago sheep and beef operation.

Faced with the realities of funding limits and the need to balance profits with the cost of pest control, previous farm managers have no doubt been confronted with the same challenges.

“I would go so far to say we’re overrun with rabbits at this present time – they have been horrendous,” says Gavin.

“They’re causing significant damage in our crop paddocks, reducing yield by 2000kg’s of dry matter a hectare. We make extra balage to compensate but it’s really the whole thing – extra balage, less stock and reduced time on the crops.

We would throw $100,000 a year at the rabbits.”

Up till now 1080 poison has reluctantly been Gavin’s weapon of choice in the war with 600 hectares treated annually on the 2600-hectare breeding and finishing property.

This year a full time rabbiter has been employed on contract utilising a regime of shooting, gas and rabbit fencing around the precious crops with the objective of significantly reducing 1080 for environmental reasons.

Pigs create a further problem during lambing and calving time, resulting in a 15% lambing loss.

“Hunters come onto the property and we run a pig trap throughout the year, catching as many as seventeen pigs in one trap and averaging around eight. Just before lambing and before the winter we put a helicopter through. On a particularly bad year we can kill between 60-80 pigs in total.”

Owned by partners Richard Somerville, Katherine Corich and Marius Van Der Bas, Queensberry Ridges is located half way between Cromwell and Wanaka on the western side of the Upper Clutha River.

The farm is broken into two blocks with 300 hectares of fully irrigated dairy support and beef finishing land managed by Jason van Lierop.

Gavin manages the remaining 2300 hectare sheep and beef breeding and finishing operation consisting of 180 hectares of irrigated land, 70 hectares of dry land and 2000 hectares of hill block running up to the Pisa range.

“The hill block has some very steep gullies and runs from the main road up to 1200 metres above sea level at the highest point. We’re pretty snow safe but get permafrosts over July August – things get quite treacherous for the cows especially. The cows winter up there and so it can be quite hard on them, requiring careful management when shifting them between paddocks.”

Exceptionally wet springs inhibit grass growth till October but when the weather warms, with the assistance of irrigation, growth takes off.

“Over the summer our irrigated flats run 27su to the hectare while the hill runs 2su – so a big contrast with extensive hill and intensive flats. At this stage we’re running 4200 half bred ewes and 250 Angus and Angus Cross cows. Jason also looks after 800 R1 & R2 cattle on his block as well as finishing our steers.”

Gavin’s passion for farming stretches right back to days when he grew up on his parents’ sheep and beef farm in the Te Anau Basin, leaving school at 15 to take the reins of the family farm for two years when his father got very sick.

“I was always going to be a farmer. I love working with my dogs and the stock. All I wanted to do when I was younger was muster on horseback on the high country. That has been my driver — I just love the outdoors and working with animals.”

Too steep for horseback, everything at Queensberry Ridges is done on foot with the help of Gavin’s three huntaways and three heading dogs.

“A lot of work and effort goes into training the dogs but you get the rewards at the end of the day. They’re probably one of the biggest assets you have on the farm apart from your staff.”

 

Dogs biggest asset on farm

In the nine years Gavin Morris has been at the helm of Queensberry Ridges, he has waged a war against rabbits and pigs that have plagued the Central Otago sheep and beef operation.

Faced with the realities of funding limits and the need to balance profits with the cost of pest control, previous farm managers have no doubt been confronted with the same challenges.

“I would go so far to say we’re overrun with rabbits at this present time – they have been horrendous,” says Gavin.

“They’re causing significant damage in our crop paddocks, reducing yield by 2000kg’s of dry matter a hectare. We make extra balage to compensate but it’s really the whole thing – extra balage, less stock and reduced time on the crops.

We would throw $100,000 a year at the rabbits.”

Up till now 1080 poison has reluctantly been Gavin’s weapon of choice in the war with 600 hectares treated annually on the 2600-hectare breeding and finishing property.

This year a full time rabbiter has been employed on contract utilising a regime of shooting, gas and rabbit fencing around the precious crops with the objective of significantly reducing 1080 for environmental reasons.

Pigs create a further problem during lambing and calving time, resulting in a 15% lambing loss.

“Hunters come onto the property and we run a pig trap throughout the year, catching as many as seventeen pigs in one trap and averaging around eight. Just before lambing and before the winter we put a helicopter through. On a particularly bad year we can kill between 60-80 pigs in total.”

Owned by partners Richard Somerville, Katherine Corich and Marius Van Der Bas, Queensberry Ridges is located half way between Cromwell and Wanaka on the western side of the Upper Clutha River.

The farm is broken into two blocks with 300 hectares of fully irrigated dairy support and beef finishing land managed by Jason van Lierop.

Gavin manages the remaining 2300 hectare sheep and beef breeding and finishing operation consisting of 180 hectares of irrigated land, 70 hectares of dry land and 2000 hectares of hill block running up to the Pisa range.

“The hill block has some very steep gullies and runs from the main road up to 1200 metres above sea level at the highest point. We’re pretty snow safe but get permafrosts over July August – things get quite treacherous for the cows especially. The cows winter up there and so it can be quite hard on them, requiring careful management when shifting them between paddocks.”

Exceptionally wet springs inhibit grass growth till October but when the weather warms, with the assistance of irrigation, growth takes off.

“Over the summer our irrigated flats run 27su to the hectare while the hill runs 2su – so a big contrast with extensive hill and intensive flats. At this stage we’re running 4200 half bred ewes and 250 Angus and Angus Cross cows. Jason also looks after 800 R1 & R2 cattle on his block as well as finishing our steers.”

Gavin’s passion for farming stretches right back to days when he grew up on his parents’ sheep and beef farm in the Te Anau Basin, leaving school at 15 to take the reins of the family farm for two years when his father got very sick.

“I was always going to be a farmer. I love working with my dogs and the stock. All I wanted to do when I was younger was muster on horseback on the high country. That has been my driver — I just love the outdoors and working with animals.”

Too steep for horseback, everything at Queensberry Ridges is done on foot with the help of Gavin’s three huntaways and three heading dogs.

“A lot of work and effort goes into training the dogs but you get the rewards at the end of the day. They’re probably one of the biggest assets you have on the farm apart from your staff.

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