Pasture management ‘one thing I really love’

Pasture management ‘one thing I really love’
PHOTOS: Moving a mob of Sheep at Aratiatia Station and heifers grazing. The property runs 19,530su on around 2000ha effective near Taupo.

Aratiatia Farm is 1983 effective out of 3897 hectares backing onto the industrial land immediately to the north of Taupo.
Mark Cunningham has been running the Pamu (formerly Landcorp) farm for the last 18 years and thrives on the challenges it offers.
“Because we’re summer dry we’re constantly feed budgeting and changing plans. It’s not a place you can sit and wait for the grass to grow – you have to be proactive.”
Mark has taken that grazing challenge to a whole new level with the changes Aratiatia Farm brought in five years ago.
“Pasture management is one thing I really love,” explains Mark.
“On the farm we concentrate very highly on pasture utilization and pasture control.”
It’s pasture that lies at the heart of the change that saw them sell of a lot of their capital stock and invest a lot of money into regrassing.
Mark credits Pamu for the support they’ve given him through the change as they started offering dairy support at the same time as they changed the way they managed the land.
“We’ve split the paddocks up from what was 6.5 hectare paddocks into 2.5 – 3 hectare cells. We monitor our grasses closely and we’ve taken on extra grazing animals.”
The key to it all is pasture management and the key to that is having the right people according to Mark.
“If you’re managing the grass right the stock’s happy anyway and everything flows on, but the work from the team is really important.”
Pasture management ‘one thing I really love’
Mark runs the farm with stock manager Kate White and three young shepherds Kacey Johnson, Lesley Pollock, and another to be appointed.
“We believe in taking on anyone who’s keen. They may be young but they’ve got a good eye for stock work and noticing any animals that aren’t quite right. With 2500 young animals on the farm that’s a critical ability. Plus their natural attention to detail pays dividends for the farm. We were a business that was averaging around $75/hectare profit per year, we now average around $700.”
As well as dairy support they run sheep, beef cows, and deer.
The animals come from other Pamu farms as well as private clients and they’re very careful with their bio-security because of Mico-plasma Bovis.
“We might mix and match the animals within the cells but we keep a paddock between every ownership group of stock,” explains Mark. ”
So if Farm A is grazing some cattle here we won’t let them get anywhere near or touch noses with Farm B’s cattle.
“As the first farm on the Waikato River they take their environmental responsibilities very seriously as well.
“We worked with the Waikato Regional Council before we even started and we get them in every year to make sure we’re still tracking right and we’re miles ahead of requirements on that front.”
They treat the whole farm as an environmental unit designed to minimize their nitrogen loss.
They’re also intent on remaining carbon positive.
“We’re already on a win there with 900 hectares of pine trees but we’re planting 750 shade trees every year for the stock and just for general aesthetics for the farm.”
For Mark it’s a win-win all round as he manages this environmentally sustainable land in a place where if he’s not looking at the mountains he’s probably got a view across Lake Taupo.
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