Pooling together in Poolburn

PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A sheep and beef finishing unit is developing in Central Otago. Equity partners Lloyd Brenssell and Richard Copland talk about the successes and challenges of pooling their capital and skills to grow a business at a field day on Coolavin farm in Poolburn last week. Shawn McAvinue was there.

The learning curve has been steep since Richard Copland and his family made a move north to develop a sheep and beef finishing unit in Central Otago.

"We had no idea what we were doing when we came and are learning as we go," Mr Copland said at a Beef + Lamb field day on the Poolburn farm last week.

Before moving to Poolburn, the Copland family lived near Gore.

Both he and his wife Renee had day jobs — his included stints working at PGG Wrightson and Rabobank.

At night, they worked on their family farm in Pukerau.

Juggling day jobs and a farm became trickier when they had children.

Coolavin farm owner Richard Copland in front of the new cattle yards on the sheep and beef...
Coolavin farm owner Richard Copland in front of the new cattle yards on the sheep and beef finishing unit. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
The couple wanted to ditch the day jobs and farm full-time.

As the family farm was too small to work on full-time, he searched for another way to realise the dream.

"I wanted something I could sink my teeth into."

The search led him to Fernvale Genetics owner Lloyd Brenssell in Moa Flat, West Otago.

A hunt began for a property featuring good soil and enough heat and water to finish cattle during winter to supply to market when prices were peaking.

The nearly 250ha farm Coolavin in Poolburn was bought more than two years ago to finish some cattle from Fernvale Genetics properties.

"We got a good feel for the potential of the block," Mr Copland said.

When they bought Coolavin it had two pivot irrigators and plans to allow them to install two more.

"The key to this property is its water quota — it has tonnes of water."

Another tick for Coolavin was it being north of Moa Flat.

Mr Copland believed stock finished better when moved north, rather than south.

Another benefit of farming in Poolburn was the number of empty stock trucks travelling past, making it cheaper to backload cattle to Coolavin.

A trading company was established to run an equity partnership.

Under the agreement, the Copland family own Coolavin and the partnership leases it and pays rent to the family.

Equity partners Lloyd Brenssell (left) and Richard Copland discuss the development of sheep and...
Equity partners Lloyd Brenssell (left) and Richard Copland discuss the development of sheep and beef finishing unit Coolavin for more than 50 people at a Beef + Lamb field day in Poolburn last week.
The Brenssell family own 75% of all stock and small plant on Coolavin, such as sheep handling gear, and the Copland family "were working our way up to a quarter share".

Mason Adams is the first to admit school was not the place for him. "I spent a fair bit of time wagging class to work in the sheds and I decided in fifth form (year 11) I was probably better off leaving school and going shearing."

He learnt the skill of the trade around Southland sheds working for his grandfather and uncle who had a shearing run and in his late teens he joined his uncle and went shearing overseas.

When he returned, there was a two-stand crutching trailer for sale and he found himself the boss of his own mobile crutching business at the age of 21.

Now, 13 years on, Mr Adams’ business has continued to grow, and he has worked hard to keep on top of his gear to ensure he is running a slick and efficient operation. Several changes have been made to the crutching trailers over the years when he has found the sheep aren’t running on as well as they could be.

"Many a long hour has been spent while crutching up on the trailer thinking ‘how can I improve this?"’

He now runs a five-stand operation with three and two-stand trailers connected together and also has a single stand for the smaller jobs.

On a good day he and his team can crutch about 8000 sheep. "Farmers tend to like it being all tidied up in a day."

Posts to finish more than 30km of new fencing on Coolavin sheep and beef farm in Poolburn.
Posts to finish more than 30km of new fencing on Coolavin sheep and beef farm in Poolburn.
A crutching trailer also offers a farmer certainty of the job getting done and in less time than it would if they were crutched across a board.

"You need to have dry weather and empty ewes to drag them across a shearing board and an in-lamb ewe needs to be off feed for 24 hours. Whereas with a crutching trailer 1500 ewes can be brought in wet and full at 8am and back out on feed by 10am."

Having good staff has been key and four years ago he added a tailing run to his services which has allowed him to employ staff year-round.

He has several staff who have been working for him for five to seven years.

A loyal prop for the Mossburn Stags senior rugby team, Mr Adams has played about 120 games for the club and doesn’t plan to finish any time soon.

"I enjoy it for the social aspect. It keeps you in touch with the young ones in the area and I also find the odd worker among them."

Being on the handpiece himself is the best part of the job. "I really enjoy getting out to the farms and having good yarns with the farmers and the shepherds. There’s always good banter."

He has forged strong relationships with his farmer clients and considers many of them good friends. "Some of them have been with me since I started out and I will call them just for a catch up."

Angus cattle set to be wintered on sheep and beef finishing unit Coolavin in Poolburn.
Angus cattle set to be wintered on sheep and beef finishing unit Coolavin in Poolburn.
Despite the decline in national ewe numbers, Mr Adams’ phone is ringing more often and he and his staff will travel throughout Southland and Otago, often staying away for four or five nights at a time, which he conceded was getting a little harder to do now he has 2-year-old twins.

"Everyone keeps asking how business is ... but I seem to just be getting busier."

Whatever the reason, he has risen to the challenge with the ultimate end goal to buy his own farm.

"Although with the way things are at the moment, I am not rushing into that," he said, with a laugh.

Mr Adams credits his uncle and grandfather for mentoring him through his early years of business ownership and latterly his wife, who is an accountant.

"She has been helpful at analysing the cash-flow and can see where the best efficiencies are made."

His advice for those keen to make their way into business ownership in the rural sector was simple: "Get out and give it a go. Work hard and prove yourself to the farmer. Farmers are very loyal people, and they will give you a shot and stick with you if they can see that you’re not afraid of a bit of hard work."

shawn.mcavinue@alliedpress.co.nz