Molesworth: vast, different, challenging

Molesworth Station, New Zealand’s largest farm, in winter and summer; Rabbit inspection station; transporting horses to camp; Molesworth Homestead.

Vast, different and a great challenge is how Jim Ward describes Molesworth Station.
Stretching 85 kilometres north from the hills behind Hanmer Springs to the head of the Awatere Valley on the Marlborough side, Molesworth Station is New Zealand’s largest farm covering 182,000 hectares.
Owned by the Crown and designated a recreational reserve the station is leased by Pamu, who along with the stock, owns all infrastructure including buildings, tracking and fencing.
Although a high country property, the lay of the land is primarily rolling. About two thirds of it is grazed, a third over summer and the other third over winter with a bit of cross over.
An experienced stockman with forty years under his belt, Jim and wife Tracey have been at the helm of Molesworth Station since 2001, just in time for the outbreak of TB on the property.
“Possums are our main focus in terms of pest control because of bovine tuberculosis on the station and we’re trying to rid ourselves of that. That’s a huge undertaking. We have a formal partnership with OSPRI NZ to eradicate TB from the station and spend a lot of time putting poison bait down and trapping, just whatever we have to do. We’ve got possum numbers right down and we’re down to five instances of TB a year.”
Goats and rabbits also pose a problem with about 3000 goats culled a year through shooting.
During the winter months there is just Jim, Tracey and one farm worker resident at Molesworth. The ground is all frozen and there is not much to be done – you certainly can’t ride a horse – the sole mode of transport for stock work.
“In September we have a group of four or five stockman turn up along with a cook and two sometimes three pest operators. We’ve two main satellite camps with diesel generators. So the guys transport the horses to camp and ride from there.
“Over a season the guys will spend a lot of time at camp – out of five to six months they’ll spend at least four and a half months away at camp. I come and go a bit but do spend quite a bit of time at camp especially over the busy period like calf marking.”
Molesworth’s farming focus is breeding, running only female stock consisting of a bit over 3000 breeding cows with 1000 replacements put to the bull.
“Each year about 4000 head go to the bull and then cull down to calve about 3000, with the older cows cast for age. And we have about 1100 yearling heifers. We farm in conjunction with Hanmer Farm where we wean all our steer calves for finishing.”
Tracey is also employed on the station doing all administration work along with stock assistance as required.
“Being a team is key to any farming operation,” says Jim.
“The ‘better half’ of the operation is so vital because she becomes the listening and sounding board that brings you back into line.”
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