Growing animals fast pivotal in high country

About 130 people attended the first Beef and Lamb New Zealand South Canterbury Farming for Profit field day for the year at Godley Peaks Station, Lake Tekapo, last week. Photo by Ruth Grundy
About 130 people attended the first Beef and Lamb New Zealand South Canterbury Farming for Profit field day for the year at Godley Peaks Station, Lake Tekapo, last week. Photo by Ruth Grundy

A chance last week to hear specialists explaining how to improve beef cattle returns in the high country given the opportunities dairy grazing offers proved to be a crowd-puller.

The first Beef and Lamb New Zealand South Canterbury Farming for Profit field day for the year was held at Godley Peaks Station, Lake Tekapo. About 130 people toured the station and discussed the role genetics and feed play in getting the best returns from beef cattle.

Julia Mackenzie, of Braemar Station, summed up proceedings when she said beef farmers needed to ''get good animals, feed them well and get growth going''.

''Growing our animals fast is what will help us increase bottom lines,'' Mrs Mackenzie said.

Verity Farms New Zealand Ltd owns Godley Peaks, spread across 14,850ha at the foot of the Southern Alps, on the shores of Lake Tekapo. Station manager Rob Glover said he had realised early on in his career how inadequate only using ''tradition-based'' practices could be.

Because he wanted ''more information than I can see'', he became convinced of the value of using Estimated Breeding Values. The Estimated Breeding Values system ranks breeding animals for specific genetic traits, to select animals.

It did require a shift in mindset from using the traditional stockman's eye appraisal for selection, he said.

However, improving genetics on the farm was only part of the answer, he said.

''Feeding, feeding, feeding'' was a constant, and careful management - they were the basic principles behind achieving good stock growth rates.

The ''grazing message'' needed to be better endorsed and expressed ''simply and confidently'' by ''educationalists''.

''It is the basis of our asset ... it is grass we farm.''

''We haven't got it right yet [on Godley Peaks] ... we have the potential to improve.''

Nonetheless, the station has built up from 6000 stock units to 23,000 stock units in the past 12 years.

In 2002, half the cattle had to be taken through a second winter because they were not bought by Five Star Beef as they were not up to the required weight criteria.

Last year, the top 25% of steers were killed and the balance was sent to Five Star Beef, by mid-March, at 17 months.

In 2012, weaning rate was 96.4%, down slightly from the 100% it reached a few years ago.

Performance was where he wanted it to be, Mr Glover said.

The operation aims to maximise the returns on a ''cents per kilogram of dry matter consumed'' basis while selecting a stocking policy to fit with the wide range of different soils and climates on Godley Peaks.

The station primarily runs Angus cattle and merino sheep.

Crossbred lambs are brought in for finishing over the summer and early autumnAll stock born on the property are finished, and with the recent purchase of Ribbonwood Station it is expected more young stock will be available for finishing in the future.

Best quality pasture is offered to growing stock, and breeding stock are sometimes used to clean up poorer quality feed.

Recent developments on the property were the development of gravity-fed irrigation infrastructure, which included the installation of four diesel-powered centre pivot irrigators, improved fencing and changes to pasture mixes.

Lucerne was being phased out because of the high cost of maintenance, high aluminium soils and challenges posed to animal health, Mr Glover said.

The huge feed spike created by irrigation combined with summer heat made maintaining good quality feed a challenge.

Other significant challenges were the high country climate and the property's fragile soils, Mr Glover said.

- by Ruth Grundy