Rakaia Gorge based Cleardale Station is starting to reap the benefits of years of genetic investment in dual purpose fine wool sheep with footrot resistance.
Genetics are now being sold nationally and are performing in a range of environments, says Cleardale Station owner Ben Todhunter.
Despite nearly 100 years of continuous breeding behind the merino stud flock started in 1924 by his great grandfather Ben says he is not tied to tradition and has invested in a fine wool nucleus flock run at Stoneyhurst and a joint venture with Western Australian stud Moojepin.
He has also worked extensively with the New Zealand Merino Company and merino farmers to help develop a footrot resistance breeding value for sheep.
“We are very excited about some of the quarterbred type genetics coming through. We have current ewes that have lambed as hoggets and reared twin lambs every year for three years that are highly resistant to footrot and have 22 micron wool. Nailing the footrot and fertility with fine wool opens up real opportunities for sheep farmers in traditional crossbred country.”
Cleardale has four separate sheep studs – merino, quarterbred and halfbred plus English leicesters.
Cleardale Station’s main flock is halfbred sheep – a mix of merino and English leicester.
Ben’s brother Philip farms on nearby Lake Heron Station and he breeds the halfbreds on contract for Cleardale.
Ben says the mix gives a fertile sheep with finer wool that gains a premium.
The halfbred ewes are mated to poll dorset terminal sires.
The mixed-age ewes average 175% scanning and lamb 140% which wean at 32-33 kilograms liveweight.
Given the quarterbred performance is now comparable with the halfbreds Cleardale will progress to a quarterbred flock for the higher wool price, he says.
Their genetics business also includes a stud of 250 angus cows.
A 144ha farm that has recently been purchased and added into the business, called Taniwha Farm, will be converted to a bull selling property and used to grow their stud bulls for sale.
For the last four years Cleardale has been wintering their stud cows at Manuka Point at the head of the Rakaia.
“Walking up the valley for two days and grazing on below maintenance feed from weaning to calving is a good test for the cows,” says Ben who enjoys the challenge of breeding functional efficient cows that provide a high quality eating experience.
Ben grew up on Cleardale Station, which today totals 1500ha.
He runs the farm with wife Donna Field who is a director of QEII National Trust and works for ECan as a land management and biodiversity advisor Located in the Rakaia Gorge the intensive foothills farm presently runs 5500 ewes, 1400 ewe hoggets, 600 ram hoggets, 300 angus beef cows, 120 heifer calves, 120 bull calves, 100 finishing heifers and 130 friesian bull calves.
They also graze 280 R1 dairy heifers and winter 1000 dairy cows on contract.
The business also includes a 70ha cropping operation growing milling wheat on contract for Champion Flour Milling in Christchurch and a small area of specialty seeds208ha of Cleardale is irrigated.
Little River runs through the station and water is taken from the tailrace of a small hydro power station that draws water from the river.
Cleardale employs four staff.
Ben focuses on the growth, strategy and people side of the business and Donna on governance and environmental aspects.
Ben is currently a director of New Zealand Merino and StockX, an internet trading platform for livestock.
Both Ben and Donna are very focused on the environment in their farming business and last year opened a public walking track – called Tani-wha Track – on their farm next to the Rakaia Gorge bridges with assistance from the Trustpower Rakaia Catchment Environmental Enhancement Fund.
“We did it as a means of improving biodiversity and managing access to the land while providing a public resource in a highly visited area. We live in this community and are part of it and get a lot of enjoyment from seeing people using the track.”
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- Cleardale Station