Years of work behind farm awards

Years of work behind farm awards
A farm pond surrounded by flax plantings (above) and some of Stonewood Farm’s 3350 breeding ewes graze the paddocks at sunset.

A couple farming in southernmost New Zealand was both surprised and delighted to win four categories in this year’s Southland Ballance Farm Environment awards.
In April, sheep and beef farmers Colin and Dot McDonald won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award, Hill Laboratories Agri-Science Award, Predator Free Farm Award and Plant Store Farm Planting and Design Award.
“We were pretty surprised to get the awards, we have spent the last 12 years looking forward to the next challenge – it’s been a great opportunity to actually look back at were we have come from ,” Dot says Stonewood Farm comprises 534 hectares of rolling hill country at Slope Point, Catlins, which in a direct line is about 60 kilometres south east of Bluff, bought in 2003.
The McDonald’s bought the farm in a run down state with little infrastructure. Many hours were spent with diggers and tractors improving the rough sandhills and clearing stumps from old bush felling ventures.
“Originally the farm had nothing. There was no house and one small wool shed that was run by a generator.”
It also lacked sheds, lanes, water troughs, and most of its fences could not keep stock separated. “Basically it was just 534ha of bare land. It was quite daunting. I guess we were lucky when we bought it that land was still reasonably priced.”
The property includes 56ha of native bush, comprising totara running through a wetland into podocarp forest and 60ha of sand hills, which act as a helpful buffer against the prevailing south-west winds.
The McDonald’s have planted 15ha of pines and macrocarpa, along with kilometres of fl ax, both as shelter and to encourage tuis and bellbirds.
Over time, the farm was subdivided into 100 paddocks, mostly of about three to four hectares each, compared to its original approximately 40 paddocks.
Consequently feed can be controlled efficiently and there is no need for electric fencing which is less labour intensive and minimises stock movements.
Dot takes a keen interest in the farm’s soil as well as crops and feed. She does all the soil tests and has spent a lot of time learning about this area.

Years of work behind farm awards
Colin and Dot McDonald’s Stonewood Farm covers 534 hectares of rolling country at Slope Point, in the Catlins.

 
“It’s always been something that’s really fascinated me. My argument has always been that if the soil is healthy then everything else will be healthy. I was rapt to get the Hill Laboratories Award.” Stonewood, so named because of the abundant petrified wood present, boasts several different soil types.
The benefit of the soil variety is there is always an area that is doing well; during winter the sandhill pastures can be thriving because of a higher soil temperature.
The influence of the sea is also a good climate moderator and the farm is relatively frost free. The higher prices being paid for lambs this year have been a blessing as the past summer’s drought resulted in lighter lamb carcass weights, with only a few stores needing to be sold at the end of the season.
The farm carries 3350 breeding ewes, 850 hoggets and 300 calves which are grown to rising two-year-olds. Depending on the season, lambing averages around 150%.
The farm runs the sheep in two mobs: Its commercial flock are composite ewes, but the McDonald’s are now putting a romney ram over the ewes to develop more specific genetic traits, and its terminal flock are crossed by a Southdown/ Dorsetdown cross.
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