Manager of Tawanui Station, Steve Tapa, has seen a lot of changes in his 30 years working there.
“My ambition when I arrived was to stay here three or four years, gain experience then move on. I’m still here,” he says with a laugh.
The 2360ha total/1750ha effective station farming 17,000 stock units is part of Awhi, a Maori-owned farming company based at the foothills of Matuate Mana, Mount Ruapehu.
When Steve arrived on the farm he says his goal was to “make Tawanui the full package”, which he defines as a farm operating at its full potential while at the same time caring for people, land and animals.
In his initial 15 years on the unit investment was limited, curtailing his ability to improve the unit as he would have liked.
Then new investment was made with a restructure of the business.
Steve remembers some of his five year targets at that time were to increase wool weight by 500 grammes, raise the percentage of lambs fattened from 15% to 85% and create a strong Angus based herd from the mixed bag of breeds on the farm at the time.
He achieved all his goals in three years by a rigorous development programme, which included fencing off native bush areas and waterways and improving paddock layout, pasture fertility and animal health.
The farming methodology of Awhicentres on creating a natural balance between people and the environment. This has gone hand in hand with focusing on producing high end products, which have minimum intervention.
For example, on Tawanui Station there has been a focus on genetics to produce meat high in intramuscular fat for high-end restaurants.
It’s a paddock-to-plate philosophy with each animal traceable to the farm where it was born and raised.
The cattle are exclusively grass-fed. Steve says his aim on Tawanui Station is to continue to increase the percentage of beef that achieves a high mar-bling score.
Likewise the lamb and wool produced by Awhi is targeted to high-end markets where possible.
On Tawanui Station the Romney flock was chosen for the superior taste and quality of the lambs produced.
Around 85% of the lambs are fattened and the remainder sold as store lambs or destined for the Awhi fattening block.
The strong, white wool produced is used in the production of a range of products from carpets to footwear and fashion.
There is also a growing amount of finer wool being produced.
Lamb survivability is a huge challenge as it is Murphy’s Law that when there’s a fall of snow that’s when the lambs will choose to drop.
Careful breeding for the survivability trait has been key.
Steve admits that it is heartening to see the fruits of his labour come to pass. He says the secret has been using all the best advice he can get his hands on.
“You don’t have to take it all on board but there’s no harm in listening.”
Now it’s simply a matter of refining how things are done with an eye on the large mountain the farm sits under which has a strong influence on weather patterns.
“If you look up at the mountain and it’s clear you know it will be an awesome day on the farm. The opposite is also true,” says Steve who knows the farm like the back of his hand.
“I’ll be retiring in a few years so I want to achieve my goal and get this place as good as I can before I leave. There is certainly huge personal satisfaction in all I’ve managed to achieve while I’ve been here.”
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