What an exciting start to April – we attend the Balance Environmental Awards dinner and a thrilled to find out that we have won not only the Beef and Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award but also Environment Canterbury’s Water Quality Award. This is a fantastic result for Puketira Deer as we felt overwhelmed when we viewed the achievements of some of the other finalists. The supreme winner of the awards was Stonyhurst, a large scale sheep, beef and deer operation also from the Hurunui District. They have a long history of stewardship and innovation. Worthy winners.
Its also still raining – even on the awards night! The tail end of two tropical cyclones – Debbie and Cook bring a further 134mm rain in the first half of April. Up until now all the rain so far has been soaking in – we are finally getting soil moisture recharge after 2.5 years without. The creeks are now starting to flow again and clover is seen once more in our pastures.
The start of April is a busy time getting 75 hinds in and out of the deer shed several times in preparation for artificial insemination. It rains the day the technician comes to do the insemination !
The majority of the hinds are only 2.5 years old and its not recommended to do them so young. We have had reasonable success in the past with young animals and it allows us to shorten the generation interval, speeding up genetic gain. However, we have not yet sent away the DNA profiles from the weaners to see how successful last year’s AI programme was.
With the wonderful autumn rain we are again able to make plans for one of our favourite passions – planting some more trees. Jamie McFadden from Hurunui Natives comes to inspect the sites we have in mind and is also able to show us the amazing diversity under one of the native “porcupine “ plants growing on the property. Jamie shows us the berries hidden on the underside of the bush – and explains that these berries provide wonderful food for native skinks in our area. There are many other insects in the bush as well. We are keen to collect some of the berries for seed – with the view to propagating the plants and establishing more in areas of the farm. Jamie also finds a couple of Matai trees hidden in the long grass. Planted about 3 years ago they are not very big but have survived 2.5 years of drought so one day they may become giants!
Press release from ECan
Waikari deer and sheep farmers Lyndon and Millie Matthews have been awarded the Environment Canterbury Water Quality Award at the regional Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA) in Christchurch on Wednesday (5 April) night.
The award judges noted the family “take huge pride in their farm environment and have, over many years, enhanced and protected its sensitive areas and natural values.”
They added that the couple has built a farm system that suits their environment in a drought-prone area. Ordinarily the 267ha farm winters 3000 stock units (su), however the recent prolonged drought drove that down to 2400su and this winter they are planning on carrying 2800su.
They have used forages that tolerate the dry better than ryegrass and management decisions such as early weaning have benefited both the livestock, which consistently perform above industry averages, and the environment.
Judges also noted the family’s commitment to excellent farm stewardship, including the protection and enhancement of sensitive areas such as limestone outcrops and wetlands. Gullies and water courses have also been fenced off and planting programmes are underway.
Lyndon and Millie’s children are committed to the family tradition of planting and have long-term plans to continue this work.
“The theme that keeps coming through for us is this is an intergenerational family farm,” says Lyndon. He adds that their son Eldon, who is in his final year gaining a BComAg at Lincoln University, has long been very focused on the environment.
Eldon has prepared a comprehensive farm environment plan which is used to underpin management decisions and is in conjunction with management software which tracks all stock performance and records.
Environment Canterbury Chair David Bedford, who presented the Water Quality Award, said entrants needed to demonstrate they were aware of the impact their operation had on water quality, and to have taken deliberate steps to manage this.
“Lyndon and Millie Matthews have demonstrated that good sustainable farm management can also be good for business.
“By developing and implementing farm environment plans and utilising technology, famers can improve productive capacity while at the same time reducing environmental effects by doing things like fencing and planting along sensitive areas.
“Environment Canterbury congratulates all entrants in these awards for their vision and leadership to put new ideas into practice,” said David Bedford.
The Matthews family also won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award, with the Supreme Award going to John, Peter and Charles Douglas-Clifford’s North Canterbury sheep, beef and deer breeding and finishing farm “Stonyhurst Property”.
A BFEA Supreme-winner field day will be held at the Stonyhurst Property, with the date to be advised.
For more information on the Ballance Farm Environment Awards, contact Canterbury regional coordinator Kaylene Fenton at [email protected] or 021 028 71318 or visit www.bfea.org.nz.
It starts off dry but with a forecast of some rain we make a start on autumn drilling. The ground is very dry, not too hard but very very dusty conditions for direct drilling. 16 ha is drilled initially – one being rape stubble paddock overdrilled with 10kg subclover and 2 kg of cocksfoot, the others getting a mix of red and white clover and a 2 year ryegrass. The 2 year ryegrass is intended to fill a feed deficit in early spring as we try to maximise growth rates in our weaner deer. As I drill I try to visualise what the paddocks will look like once they get rain. Will it come by the end of the month?
It rains! – first 13 mm on the 7th March, a further 60mm from 11-13th March and 16mm spread over several showers later in the month. For the first time in 3 years we are getting autumn rains again. Its very exciting seeing the land start to respond – initially there is not much to see, then a green tinge and finally after some warmth – an explosion of feed, and weeds.
The farm has gone from dust to an average pasture cover of about 2,500kg in a little over 3 weeks. Meanwhile we continue feeding cereal silage to hinds and ewes while weaner deer get Lucerne balage and grain in addition to the best paddocks available. The weaner deer are very settled this year – and will come running up when you bring fresh Lucerne balage into their paddock. I guess they must really like this supplementary feed. Whilst it was great to refill a silage stack with Lucerne in the spring we really could use some more Lucerne balage for stock performance. Next spring we will make a conscious effort to put more Lucerne into balage.
The good news is that with the wonderful autumn rain we will be able to keep the second stack of silage in reserve for the future.
The rest of March is spent spraying out paddocks for drilling into annual ryegrass or greenfeed oats for later winter/early spring feed.
The ewes remain shut on one paddock but are supplemented with some barley grain as well as their silage in order to “flush” them prior to the rams going out at the end of March.
Upon our return to the farm on 6 February we are straight back into deer work. February is a busy month, bringing fawns into the deer shed for the first time for tagging with EID tags and again 2 weeks later to be weaned from the hinds). Stags are introduced to most of the mobs except those hinds which will be artificially inseminated.
With February only receiving 3.5mm rain for the month its extremely dusty working in the deer yards. Weaner weights are reasonably typical for a dry February although 330 grams/day liveweight gain was still achieved (It has been up to 430 grams/day in wetter Februarys). Mob weaning weights ranged from 55kg to 60 kg.
Unless we make a conscious effort to feed supplement from January on I don’t think we will see much change to this. I think it suits our management to feed more supplement to the fawns after weaning. In any case the hinds are in good order (condition score 3-4) at weaning so should take the stag readily. A notable success for the 2016 fawning is the extremely good survival rate in the first calvers – from an initial 79 first calvers 91% were in calf (72) and we weaned 69 fawns (87% to hinds mated). Most older mobs also returned good fawning percentages in the 90’s although one mob seemed to have had all the dries in it (none of the older hinds were pregnancy scanned) so that pulled the average back.
In February each year we sell surplus 2th ewes to a regular buyer. These are ewes that were mated as hoggets and lambed. We keep half and our regular customer takes the other half. There is friendly rivalry in comparing kill sheet results – he achieves some large drafts at impressive weights however we are getting a higher survival to sale from our flock.
With no moisture in the ground there is very little feed left, most of the “tag” has been grazed off, there is very little Lucerne regrowth and most animals on the farm are now being feed silage daily. Initially its Lucerne silage made in February last year. The stock quickly adjust and look forward eagerly to the arrival of the silage wagon each day.
Early January is spent trying to tidy up some tasks that didn’t get completed the previous year, before we go on holiday. It’s a good time of the year as many people are already on holiday so there are few interruptions. Lambs that have not already been sent to the works are on Pasja (a forage crop) and do well on this with a further draft going mid January at 19kg carcase weight. These return us $98/head with 92% of the line giving us a premium for meat yield. It all helps financially and its pleasing to know that what we are producing largely meets specification.
The cereal silage has now all been harvested, filling the new pit, with the over flow being added to another stack on top of the ground. A paddock of annual ryegrass which we had vaguely considered the possibility of harvesting for seed gets simply cut for hay due to uncertain weather (its bound to rain if we cut it for grass seed, and the requirement to spend at least a day trying to get our old header going). The day it is fit to bale becomes very windy and we have to rake just in front of the contractor’s baler to avoid the hay blowing across the paddock and onto the fence. The paddock is not flat and unluckily for the contractor one of the bales rolls down the hill breaking two posts in the boundary fence.
With deer finished fawning now we start rotating hinds and fawns onto Lucerne paddocks, or paddocks of rape (summer feed). No dryland farmer’s blog is complete without a comment on the rainfall and its pleasing to record 52mm in January spread over 8 separate rainfall events.
By 20 January we to are ready to go on our annual summer holiday to a beach in the Coromandel Peninsula – 2 weeks of time out.
As we head into the last month of the calendar year we try to make some hay from the second cut of Lucerne – we do so eventually but it’s a drawn-out process as the weather remains overcast, and showery. In hind sight, we should have simply made it into balage. Velvetting of stags continues every 10 days and we steadily work through the 3 year old then the 2 year old stags doing about 10 a session. We have a new freezer for storage of the velvet this season, and the annual assessment by the vet passes without incident.
Early December sees a visit from the Balance Environmental Awards judging team – its quite a short visit that coincided with a sharp shower of 12mm rain! However, they obviously found something we are doing of interest as we have made it through to the next round, which will be judged in January. Its 10 years since the last time we entered the Awards and now the standard is considerably higher. When we last entered Nitrogen leachate was barely a consideration, now we farm to limitations on Nitrogen loss to water.
Prior to Christmas the Hoggets are weaned of their lambs and some of these lambs are good enough to go for processing – approximately 1/3 are able to go with an average carcase weight 17.2kg.
A further draft of weaned lambs averages 18.2kg and we hope to kill all other lambs this season at least at this weight – if the weather permits.
Last job before Christmas is to get a digger back to lift the concrete panels we had poured, into place in the sides of the new self-feed silage pit. Apart from one panel cracking when being “bumped” as another is swung into place the job goes reasonably well. However, the last panel that was poured appears to have been of weaker strength concrete and simply fell apart!
The night before Christmas Eve it rained – and we were amazed to find 29mm in the rain guage the next morning. Surely that could not be correct? An enquiry to Mel, our manager, confirms that the gauge had been emptied previously and that she had tipped out 54mm at her place that morning. Smiles all around.
Well this is turning into a great spring – we keep receiving regular rain and the barley grass did not run to seed at the start of November as it does most other years. We are still only farming the top 50mm of the soil profile, underneath there is no soil moisture in reserve but at least the regular rains keep things topped up. We receive 80mm rain in 3 significant falls spread over the month. This is just marvellous for hinds fawning and many of the paddocks have gone to seed – there is good cover for the fawns. There are not so many running around initially but lots of ears can be seen sticking above the grass. A further draft of yearling deer in November is predominantly hinds as the stags had gone in October. As an experiment, we weaned one twin mob of lambs at the end of October (7 weeks of age) and have run them on Lucerne since. We want to see if they will do better on their own when not competing with the ewe for feed. They settle quickly and seem to enjoy having it all for themselves. At the end of November we wean all other ewe mobs and the first draft is really just to take out the tops – those that would be too heavy to carry on any further. Overall we achieve 18.5kg for these first lambs with the heaviest topping out at 25kg, drafted just in time. The balance we will carry on later into as our Meat Processor - Alliance Group have a fixed price contract to the end of December. Ironically the wetter November slows down lamb growth rates and we do not draft as many off mum as in other years. However, we did wean a week earlier than usual to this pulls back the weaning weight. Our farm IQ data indicates the ewe lambs (which have now all been EID tagged) wean an average 30.5kg at 84 days so average growth rate since birth was about 310 grams/day. We
know they have been growing at a faster rate in October but obviously dropped off in November and feed quality on grass based pastures deteriorated quickly. Lucerne of course is performing magnificently. The damper weather in November means we have to spray the cereal silage crops a second time with a fungicide spray. By now the crop is too tall for a tractor mounted sprayer and we have to get a helicopter in to do the job. Whilst this is a significant expense, it leaves no wheel marks, and ensures that the crop has the best possible chance to produce a high yield of healthy grain. It is looking great.
Just after midnight on 14th November the Hurunui district was struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake – and it seemed like it would never stop. Come day break a tour of the farm revealed we had been very fortunate not to have received any damage. However, those north of the Waiau River and through to Kaikoura suffered considerable damage – with stock water supply being one of the biggest challenges going forward. A week later another earthquake – at Scargill, even closer to home. Again, thankfully, no damage on farm.
It just gets busier in October with tailing of lambs, weighing and drafting yearling deer for the works, set stocking hinds for fawning, tractor work spraying and drilling paddocks for winter feed or new Lucerne, silage making. We had 5 times more rain than in October this year compared with last year – but last year we only received 12 mm! This year we received slightly less than our long-term average so maybe things are changing for the better. Tailing has been completed with ewes achieving 160% and ewe hoggets 93% (animals mated/lambs tailed). It was very exciting to see the twin bearing hoggets tail out at 166% - suffice to say they will all be retained as replacements for our flock. The second draft of yearling deer took place a week earlier than we were anticipating and while the weights were satisfactory they were slightly short of the weight we had been targeting. They were on track from a growth rate perspective but simply killed earlier. Note to self – book them in slightly later next year…
We were one of the first farms to cut silage this spring – before the dairy farmers got going in Culverden. We have 7 ha of greenfeed oats that had been too high in nitrate in the winter to graze. It was feed we had desperately needed in the winter but at least we have now been able to harvest it and out it into a stack as a reserve for the next dry season. 14ha of Lucerne was also cut and added to the stack – this will be very high quality feed. A paddock directly in front of the homestead has been selected for direct drilling into Lucerne. The preparation was good, the soil conditions right, it was weed free and I even managed to drill reasonably straight. Upon leaving the paddock, to my horror, I discovered that I did not have the “collector” under the seed bin to send the seed down the coulter tubes. What will the paddock come up like?
All the lambs from the ewes have been brought through the yards for a parasite drench and a first weighing. At 25kg liveweight they are where we expect then to be. Its pleasing to see the triplet mob are achieving above average weights – a function of priority feeding.
Spring has sprung and so begins the first of the very busy months leading up to Christmas! The weather has been kind and lambing appears to have gone well apart from a short sharp cold windy storm that brings 38mm rain on the 8th September – just at the end of the first lambing cycle. The rain is most welcome and we think overall lamb losses have been minimal but only the docking tally will confirm that.
The venison rising yearling deer are now growing at 326 gm/day on paddocks of annual ryegrass. We select our first draft of tender, succulent, melt in your mouth, pasture fed venison – a mix of the heaviest animals, and some that are lighter but growing at a below average daily gain. The net result is a 58.3 kg carcase at the end of September – a result we are very satisfied with especially as these are straight red deer, and the first draft also included some hinds that were over 50kg carcase weight. The best animals retained are growing at 400-500 grams per day. We will keep them for another month and take them over 60 kg carcase weight. This is exciting!
The main mob of hinds finally finished their silage – after 140 days, It has cost us approximately 40 cents/head/day to winter. This has been an incredible game changer for us. As they finally leave the stack and are introduced back onto grass they are in great condition and very content.
September sees us TB test 43 2 & 3 yr old red stags that we have bred as venison sires. We hope to sell the 3 year olds as sires later in the season so they are blood tested for Johnes at the same time. There is no incidence of TB observed so we are not required to test for a further 2 years. This is huge progress and a great saving for all deer farmers in our area, largely due to the very low incidence of wild animals as vectors eg ferrets and opossums. The TB tester compliments us on how well they stags have wintered and how good their temperament is.
September is spent spraying out paddocks for pasture renewal and direct drilling – Monty barley for cereal silage, red and white clovers with Titan rape as a summer feed crop for lactating hinds and our permanent pasture mix of prairie grass and Lucerne.
The lambs are doing well and after an initial start just tailing the singles and some smaller twin mobs each Saturday we suddenly come to the realisation that what is still to be tailed how now got quite heavy to pick up, and very boisterous. So a big push is and the remaining 50% are tailed on the last day of September. During the winter Thomas made some modifications to the portable tailing yards including the addition of new lightweight alloy gates to replace the older heavy steel ones. This is a great success and the taller panels also stop as many lambs from jumping out!
Rainfall in September is just above average – aided by a thunder storm that delivered 8mm in 20 minutes to the front half of the farm. While the back of the farm where I was drilling received none.
However, the place is looking a picture and all stock are doing extremely well. Its great to be able to fully feed stock again.
We choose the coldest week of the year to take a break from Puketira Deer and spent some time on a cattle station in the Australian outback. We left behind an average daily high of just 5 degrees and went to a land of red dirt and Mulga scrub. That’s what the cattle eat – Mulga scrub. Like us they have also been suffering from the effects of dry seasons however the day we left they got 65mm rain – so maybe we are next!
Meanwhile back home spring nitrogen has been applied to pastures in anticipation of increasing animal demand until the Lucerne paddocks are ready to graze. The venison mob of young deer have finished their kale and are now spending a week a time on grass paddocks taking the top off them before ewes are set stocked for lambing.
The main mob of hinds are still very content with their self feed cereal silage and we are anxiously counting the days that it might have left. Will we be able to get to the end of August – 120 days since they went on?
Ewes are in good condition prior to lambing and we set stock them into their different lines. With only 100 ewes carrying singles they are allocated a hill paddock out the back. However there are also 100 triplet bearing ewes which we have been preferentially feeding and they go onto the best of paddocks with ample pasture cover and shelter. How well will they lamb? Twin bearing ewes are spread out everywhere else – some lightly stocked on good shelter but limited feed , others on good shelter and good feed. With limited options we have to set stock too many on a triticale paddock that has good cover and good shelter but does not have a good history as a lambing paddock. We think this is because they all lamb together along the hedge line and get mixed up.
Incredibly, the greenfeed oats for wintering the hoggets on still remains high in nitrate. We were eventually able to graze one paddock but when we wanted to move to the next one it was still too high in nitrate to be safe. In the finish they mainly get Lucerne silage, as do the younger hinds. Its very high quality and they all look forward to it.
As usual the ewes start lambing before we can get them set stocked however they seem to successfully look after their lambs despite being in a large mob.
Our meat processing and marketing co-operative has brought out venison contracts for the period Oct – early February. This is a great morale booster and allows us to forward budget with some confidence knowing what price we will receive. We adopt a spread of kill with some in October. December and late January. Are signing up – doubts creep in as it continues to remain dry. Perhaps we should be trying to get as many away in October, like last year.