In the early days … a landscape of sheep and rabbits

In the early days ... a landscape of sheep and rabbits
Otematata Station has been farmed by the Cameron family since 1892. Current owner Hugh Cameron (below) is embarking on a programme of subdividing the bigger blocks, oversowing and top dressing.

When the Waitaki hydro-electric projects were being built, the area was awash with heavy machinery. Hugh Cameron’s father took advantage of this windfall to get earthworks, farm roads and fencelines established on Otematata Station.
Until then, the farm his great grandfather bought in 1892, which runs from the river valley to the top of the Hawkdun Range, had blocks of up to 9000 hectares where the sheep competed with rabbits for feed.
“My father replaced the six wire fences that the sheep took little notice of, and the cattle took no notice of, and started subdividing into smaller blocks, which were still up to 600ha,” Hugh says.
“When he died and I took over, I did a lot of oversowing and top dressing, and we are subdividing again to get better utilisation.”
Two more recent reasons continue the subdividing drive. Marlborough farmer and promoter of dryland lucerne, Doug Avery, gave a talk in the valley, prompting Hugh to give it a go.
“It takes time to get critical mass, but we’re getting to that stage where we will get the ewes in better order when they go to the ram.” Changes in water use regulations make it important to secure allocations.
“We have been picking off the easier parts, using hard hose irrigators because of the awkward shapes where water is available, but will put in pivots. It gives us the ability to keep lambs going after weaning. We have always been just a breeding unit, but may in future finish more lambs ourselves. Most we sell as stores through a strategic relationship with another farm.”
The combination of subdividing, lucerne and irrigation improves the ability to grow and use supplement.
Traditionally the ewes wintered on the hill. Bringing them down post lambing to feed on the lucerne, after it has had a cut, lets the hill pastures recover.
The 40,000ha Crown Pastoral Lease farm combines Otematata as the home station, Aviemore, next door, the original block his great grandfather bought, and a 2000ha freehold block near the Waitaki Hydro dam.
It is basically a Merino business, although 7-800 ewes go to terminal sires. The merino stud is primarily for their own purposes, with extras available for other clients. Wool quality is the trait mainly aimed for, with lamb production playing an increasing role.
“I’m conscious that carcase weight and wool production are antagonistic traits – go one way and you won’t get much of the other. It’s wool at the moment.

In the early days ... a landscape of sheep and rabbits
Big country mustering: The 40,000ha Crown Pastoral Lease farm combines Otematata as the home station, Aviemore, next door, the original block, and a 2000ha freehold block near the Waitiki Hydro project.

“We are different from many other farms because we have a large wether flock. Of the 28,000 sheep, 11,000 are ewes, 11,000 wethers, and the rest hoggets. We have a large amount of high country so can put wethers up there where it suits them because they are hardier. Ewes would only be able to utilise that country two months of the year – their job is lamb production.” Everything winters up to 4500 feet.
In summer they go higher. Wool is largely sold on contract to either Icebreaker or Reda (an Italian fine wool specialist company.) The 500 Hereford cattle herd has 350 breeding cows.
Black bulls are put over first and second calvers for easier calving, Herefords go over the mixed age cows. Simmental bulls across the older cows are producing a good cross.
Rabbits have historically been a major problem. Currently, a contract rabbiter who started out as the station rabbiter then broadened his horizons, has things pretty well under control.
Hugh and his late wife, Mandy, had two children. Encouraging them to pursue their own careers saw their daughter, Olivia, take on radiography, and son, Joe, aviation.
Joe has since returned to the farm. “He and I are pretty much on the same page. He has a lot to offer,” says Hugh.
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