Environmental gains key at Ohotu

Environmental gains key at Ohotu

Ohotu Station is placing a big emphasis on environmental stewardship, which saw the farm win the Farm Stewardship regional award at the 2018 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
Owned by Atihau Incorporation and managed by Dean Francois, the farm has retired 111ha including 43ha of native bush covenanted with Nga Whenua Rahui.
Twenty-two kilometres of the station’s 50km of waterways are fenced and the remainder is scheduled for fencing in the next year. “We are located right next to Tongariro National Park, a World Heritage site.
Atihau Incorporation is aiming to retire a corridor for native birds from the Whanganui River to the park,” he says pointing out that the area retired at Ohotu Station is only a small part of the total area that will eventually be retired to achieve the vision.
Located 15km east of Ohakune, with 1500ha of mainly flat to rolling land, Ohotu Station takes stock bred on the incorporation’s breeding stations and raises them to saleable weight on pasture or forage crops. The farm fattens 30,000 romney and perendale trading lambs each year.
The season is short – starting in December and ending in June. The summer dry is also a big challenge as lambs are “more finicky quality feeders” compared to cattle, says Dean. The farm has irrigation on 70ha which helps produce high quality grasses and clovers for the sheep.
Due to the cold winters – four snowfalls per season is to be expected – Dean uses a crossbred or terminal sire to produce hybrid vigour and good ability to convert grass to meat. “We’re trying to farm 12 months of the year with 100 day winters,” he says, putting the challenge in perspective.
“We don’t really have an autumn as at this time of the year soil temperatures can plunge quickly so all our new grasses must be planted in spring.”
Trading cattle is the other main part of the business and Ohotu Station kills around 1800 head of cattle each year and kills year-round.
They have 3000 head of cattle throughout the year made up of weaners, older steers and heifers, as well as rearing around 100 friesian bull calves.
Dean also manages Tohunga Station another unit in the Atihau group. This 1000ha unit comprises 20,000 trading lambs, 2500 one year old ewes and 1000 head of cattle of which 700 are killed.
It also winters 400 dairy cows from AWHI dairy and grazes the R2 year heifers. Both farms have a steep pasture curve so the aim is to grow as much surplus as possible in late spring to harvest to carry the stock through the winter.
Around 80ha of kale is grown at Ohotu and 60ha at Tohunga. The Angus breed is favoured as it utilises feed well, has a thick skin to keep warm, good foraging ability and lays down internal fat.
A great deal of emphasis is placed on marbling and Dean says the key is to keep the stock well fed so they don’t need to feed off the fat in their bodies. Cattle are drafted in weight ranges so feeding can be prioritised.
They don’t strip graze, as Dean says that this encourages competitive behaviour, but instead prefer to cell graze giving cattle an opportunity to fully feed, supplemented with hay baleage.
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