Gold in the ground and on the hoof

Gold in the ground and on the hoof
A wintering shed has resulted in quicker weight gain for the 400 cattle (Simmental-Charolais cross) at Mike Thompson’s finishing operation near Rakaia.

Mike Thompson’s 350ha farm at Wendonside, between Rakaia and Balfour, has been in the family for generations and its history is apparent.
The hills still bear the mark of historic gold mining that took place on the land when gold was driven from the earth with a sluice gun. Old mining equipment still dots the farm and makes for an interesting walk for locals.
According to Evan Ferris, who has been working on the farm for some 20 years, this history of mining has meant the ground on certain parts of the farm tends to dry out over summer.
The farm functions as a finishing operation with 1000 Wairere ewes and 400 cattle, a mix of Simmental cross and Charolais. Around 2000 store lambs are bought in over summer for finishing along with the lambs born on the farm.
The cattle are destined for ANZCO Foods for a contract for the Japanese market, which means they can not be larger than 350 kilograms on the hook.
A wintering shed allows the cattle to put on weight quickly – around 1.85 kilograms per day in June when they are fed a mix of lucerne and whole crop barley.
Evan says changing the feed to grass and whole crop barley the following month they noticed a drop in weight gain to 1.4 kilograms per day.
They plan to grow more lucerne in future and shift from feeding grass. They get three cuts off the lucerne they grow on the farm then use it to fatten lambs for the fourth cut.
Around 40ha of red and white clover and 8ha of rape was grown for the first time last season and Evan says the lambs responded well to it. It also helped mitigate the effects of a drought in the region as the deeper rooted clover continued to flourish.
When nearby farmers were having to send their lambs off to the works lighter than usual Mike and Evan still managed to kill at 20 kilogram carcass weight.
The wintering shed has also helped them finish more cattle and mitigated damage to paddocks during winter.
It means they can kill when other aren’t and the schedule is higher in October/November/ December so they gain a premium. The farm also has a small herd of around 30 purebred Limousins, which Evan describes as a “hobby”.
This year he entered one of the farm’s Limousines in the Otato/Southland Beef Carcass Competition and it was named on-the-hoof champion and reserve champion, winning the Doug Lindsay Memorial Trophy. It was also the winner of the on-the-hook section, winning the Alan Dodd Trophy.
It’s the fourth time cattle from the farm has won at the awards indicating the high level of animal produced but Evan takes it all in his stride.

He says Limousines yield well, with a 60% meat to bone ratio, and also carry the myostatin (double muscling) gene making them an obvious choice to enter in the annual competition. In fact it was this that first got them started with the breed when they saw how well they usually placed.
Gold in the ground and on the hoof
Evan Ferris with some of the award winning cattle in the wintering shed.

Evan says he and Mike share the workload with little planning in that regard apart from a morning yarn where they let each other know what they will be doing that day on the farm.
Both now in their sixties they obviously share a love of the land and plan to keep on farming for as long as they can.
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