When Alan Stewart's parents moved to a farm in the Leithen
Valley, near Gore, in 1949, times were tough.
That first year, his father ran 1500 ewes, which lambed 59%,
and about 25 cows that "had a few calves as well".
There was a dirt road and they had no electricity, let alone
a washing machine, he recalled.
As a child growing up, Mr Stewart remembered there were no
fences and he could ride his horse all over the property and
not have to open a gate.
More than 60 years later, things were vastly different on the
Stewart family's extensive farming business.
The increased production in their sheep and beef farming
operation and diversification through a successful trophy
hunting business made it an ideal property for the nearly 400
people attending the recent New Zealand Grassland Association
conference to visit.
The conference, titled Opportunities in Changing Land Use,
included field trips to both the Stewart family's farm and
Nithdale Station, where Andrew and Heather Tripp have both
sheep and beef operations and a dairy unit, as well as a farm
The Stewart family's property now comprised 2698ha,
additional land having been bought over the years.
The farming side was looked after by Alan and Sue Stewart and
daughter Bee, while another daughter, Rachel, ran the trophy
hunting with her husband, Olly Burke.
Son George was on a cattle property in Australia's Northern
Territory, where he ran a business hunting water buffalo,
wild boar and scrub bulls.
The farming operation comprised about 9000 ewes, with a
Wairere Romney base and some Perendale and Coopworth
genetics, and about 2600 hoggets.
There were also about 300 mixed-age breeding cows and about
The ewes lambed between 135% and 140% and they were a good
hill sheep, free-moving and not too big, which suited the
country, Bee Stewart said.
They tried to finish all lambs, getting them to 18kg, but
that depended on the season.
When it came to farming, Alan Stewart likened it to a good
rugby team. "You do the basics right, that's what we try and
do ... and everything takes care of itself.""We believe we
are pretty good shepherds. We don't do anything fancy - we're
pretty basic farmers," he said.
One thing they had always spent a lot of money on was
fertiliser, especially lime.
"Fertiliser is vital to us up here.
If we didn't have it, nothing would happen."
Mr Stewart had always been keen on hunting and had had a
dream to attract paying customers to go hunting.
The area had always had a good feral deer population, but
during the helicopter capture years the feral population was
hunted keenly, so the Stewarts shut down helicopter-hunting
on the property to ensure there would still be some deer
around for their children.
Numbers built up and, to both preserve them and capture more
deer, 400ha was ring-fenced.
The first few years were "really stressful", but they learnt
the trade from other hunting guides and found out where to
market the business.
They now catered for between about 60 and 70 hunting parties
a year, sometimes reaching as many as 100.
The deer herd had a red hind base. All spikers were taken
through to hard velvet in February-March and then culled
(50%-60%) in the early autumn based on antler size and style.
They were then culled by 50% again based on the velvet they
cut as 2-year-olds the following January, those remaining
entering the mixed-age velvet herd.
Stags were velveted for the final time as 6-year-olds, and,
at 7, were grown out as trophies. A final cull occurred
before the stags were released into the safari blocks.
The Stewarts aimed to give hunters "the experience of a
lifetime". It was not all just about hunting, but also about
New Zealand "and showing them what we have to offer", Rachel
An average hunt was between five and seven days, although
could reach up to nine or 10 days, and they specialised in
red stags, fallow deer, tahr and chamois.
A new lodge was built in 2000, which had been added to over
the past 10 years, while a Wanaka lodge was also used as a
base for hunting.
They preferred people to book a year in advance and had one
hunter booked until 2016. They were proud of the number of
word-of-mouth referrals, Mrs Burke said.
Each year, the family attended trade shows in the United
The first hunters arrived in February and then it was "full
go" until about June and "pretty much done" by August, Olly
It was a year's worth of work in half a year and, while
people thought it was a glamorous job, it was in fact "really
hard yakka", Mr Burke said.
Hunting and farming worked "pretty well together", and there
were no real clashes, Mr Stewart said, while Mrs Burke said
they were "pretty proud" of being a family business.