Focus on production per hectare

Maurice and Renee Judson, of Awamangu, won the recent Silver Fern Farm’s national  ‘‘plate to pasture’’ competition. Members of the award-winning team are (from left) Nigel Parr, Sam Sharpe, Maurice Judson, Renee Judson, Patrick Silcock and Jesse Head. Ph
Maurice and Renee Judson, of Awamangu, won the recent Silver Fern Farm’s national ‘‘plate to pasture’’ competition. Members of the award-winning team are (from left) Nigel Parr, Sam Sharpe, Maurice Judson, Renee Judson, Patrick Silcock and Jesse Head. Photo: Yvonne O'Hara
Extensive data analysis, together with practical experience and encouraging natural animal behaviour, has meant improved growth rates and higher per hectare production for award-winning farm managers Maurice and Renee Judson.

The couple have managed the Wistaria Co's 1700ha sheep, deer and cattle property at Awamangu, near Clydevale, for Bangkok-based owners Dr David and Wichanee Ivory, for 12 years.

During that time, weights and growth rates have improved, and lambs and deer have been finished earlier. The property runs 16,500 stock units: 75% sheep; 20% deer and 5% cattle.

''Our focus in on a per hectare production rather than per head performance,'' Mr Judson said.

Since 2014, they have gone from 203kg/ha to 220kg/ha in 2018, which they attribute to better genetics and feeding.

Mr and Mrs Judson, who have three children: Lachlan (15), Ben (12) and Kate (6), were delighted when they won Silver Fern Farm's (SFF) national plate to pasture competition.

Mr Judson said the award was not only about their farm management and environmental practices, but also about how well they incorporated the processing company's customer-focused plate to pasture concept into their operations.

''They (SFF) want to bring the consumers and farmers closer together, and get the farmers to understand what the consumers want, as well as get the consumers to understand how the animals are farmed,'' Mr Judson said.

Maurice and Renee Judson, of Awamangu, manage the Wistaria Company's 1700ha sheep, deer and cattle property. Photo: Supplied
Maurice and Renee Judson, of Awamangu, manage the Wistaria Company's 1700ha sheep, deer and cattle property . Photo: Supplied
They were awarded points for the overall operation, as well as their goals, business strategy, consumer focus, financial management and performance and even their choice of meat dish.

Mrs Judson had to prepare and cook a red meat dish. She chose a warm venison salad with a redcurrent jus.

''I had to choose a market, and choose a dish for that market. I chose the emerging American market. It was a healthy meal that could be prepared in under 45 minutes, and everything could be bought from the supermarket in one trip,'' she said.

The couple will visit China and Korea for an ''in-market experience'' next year.

Dr Ivory has improved soil fertility and pastures, and added new stock handling facilities, fencing and staff housing, as well as planting 150ha of forestry and shelter belts in the past 20 years.

''David is a really supportive employer and is really enthusiastic about the farm, and about the people, and he wants to ensure his staff are happy and well looked after,'' Mr Judson said.

Dr Ivory keeps a close eye on the farm's progress and analyses the data from growth rates, weaning, weight etc, to identify potential areas for further production gains using internal and independent benchmarking.

They run Coopworth/Romney/Texel composites, introducing Texel genetics six years ago.

''We liked their meaty characteristics, survivability and growth rates,'' he said.

Venison is their primary focus, rather than velvet, and they use the faster growing, earlier finishing Eastern European red deer for meat production.

''We kill a large percentage of weaners for the European chilled markets.

''One of the things that really helped us with the award is we let the deer follow their natural habits.''

The deer are given a third to half a paddock per break on winter crop, to browse naturally.

He said there was less paddock damage, and it reduced the soil run-off into the gullies.

They have also introduced the faster-growing subterranean clover, which is ready to graze about a month earlier than other varieties, to provide a quality diet for the lactating sheep and lambs.

Wistaria Co

  • Three-year lambing percentage average has been 135% to sale or replacements.
  • The average lamb carcass weight is 17.5kg with 80% killed and the balance going to stores.
  • They grow 80ha of crop, which includes direct drilling 65ha swedes and 15ha kale, and also make baleage.
  • In the past eight years, the weaner deer have gone from an average 52kg to an 57kg, which is a 24% increase in kg/ha.
  • They employ four staff.
  • They run 750 mixed age Eastern European red hinds, 620 weaners and about 40 stags, 13,000 sheep and 240 cattle.

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