Waiau block adds value to business

Waiau block adds value to business
Craigforth, a 1200ha farm at Pigeon Bay runs around 8500 stock units – North Island Romneys and Angus cattle. Photos: Elise Rutherford Photography

“Variety’s the very spice of life that gives it all its flavour,” said eighteenth century poet, William Cowper. Angus Aitken has taken that to heart. He grew up on Craigforth, a 1200 hectare farm at Pigeon Bay on Banks Peninsula, that had been in his family since 1939.
It has 250ha cultivated at various altitudes from near sea level, and runs up to about 500 metres of more rolling country. He went into banking, then came back four years ago to run the family business.
“We thought it would be good to find an alternative land type to add to the business, so looked for opportunities.” The opportunity came in 2017 in the form of what is now 270ha of pretty flat land north of Waiau.
The first block had good infrastructure, and came with grazing heifers, enabling them to “hit the ground running”, and buy and develop a neighbouring block
. Expanding the irrigation to three pivots, meant they could bring in steady cashflow running a dairy support farm, grow young heifers on contract for a local dairy farm, and finish young lambs from Craigforth.
“We take the calves on in December at 100kg, grow them to May, then to the following May. Heifer grazing suits the irrigated growth curve with an increase in stock units from December to May when we run both R1s and R2s.
“We have to have irrigation for good quality pasture and to produce decent winter crops of kale or fodder beet for the young stock. The extra tonnage gives us security.”
They have run 520 R2s through the summer, and 360 R1s. These are kept in mobs of 140 to 150 to keep competition down, especially when they are on winter crop.
Depending whether they are Kiwi Cross or Friesian, they are grown to around 400 to 500kg. “I have one full time staff member here and employ contractors for cultivation, drilling and most earthworks.
We’re fortunate to have a lot of contractors nearby.” Craigforth has a manager and shepherd. Angus goes back every fortnight to catch up with what’s happening there.
It has about 8500 stock units – North Island Romney sheep and Angus cattle. “We finish our own cattle and keep all the calves.
We’ve done a lot of regrassing and have potential to push that to 9000 SU with pasture and fertility improving. We grow summer rape and red clover for finishing the lambs, and utilise Italian rye grass on warmer country.
“We’re fortunate to have Craigforth as the cornerstone of the business. We wouldn’t be doing what we are doing at Waiau without it.”
The whole business is interlinked but each farm has to stand on its own feet. The different environments allow them to make adjustments in a period of unpredictable climate.
“There is flexibility of options that make financial sense. It enables succession for the next generation, and gives my parents space to continue living on the home farm.
“It has been very satisfying to take a dryland farm and add value to it. It has been quite a process; getting consents and developing in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way, which is important to us. We’ve worked long hours, but it is rewarding”
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