Half a century of Hereford stud breeding to be celebrated at sale

Waikaka Station co-owners Laurie and Sharon Paterson will host their 50th Hereford bull sale on their 750ha property in Southland tomorrow. Shawn McAvinue talks to them about the highs and lows of the past sales and five decades of breeding better beef.

Five decades of Hereford stud breeding will be celebrated at Waikaka Genetics’ 50th bull sale at Greenvale in Southland tomorrow.

About the same number of bulls were offered in the same shed on the same day on-farm at Waikaka Station in 1974.

"There was a good crowd and we offered a 3-year-old bull we’d used and he sold well — it was a successful sale for a first up," co-owner Laurie Paterson said.

The breeding of the bulls had changed since then; the first four bulls on offer tomorrow were out of 2-year-old heifers which was "quite an amazing change" compared to 50 years ago.

An attempt to calve 2-year-old heifers in the 1970s was unsuccessful.

Either heifers were too small to produce a calf or if they could, they lacked enough milk to feed it. He succinctly described it as a "disaster".

Calving heifers was possible due to the genetic gains made after Breedplan was introduced to New Zealand which Mr Paterson played a part in.

The genetic evaluation system estimates the breeding value of cattle for a range of production traits, allowing for the calving of 2-year-old heifers, predictable calving ease, growth, milk and increases in eye muscle area and intramuscular fat.

A stark difference between the first and the latest sale catalogue was the amount of information.

The Waikaka Genetics herd consists of 200 cows and calves, 40 rising 2-year-old bulls, eight sire bulls and 60 rising 2-year-old heifers.

All of the heifers were put to the bull.

Empty heifers were sent away, something they had done for more than 20 years.

Bull calves were left entire and about 55 were sold as yearlings to the dairy industry and the rest were kept for the sale.

Sharon Paterson has been involved in the 41 sales since marrying Laurie in 1983.

The family has experienced some highs and lows on sale days.

Good times included a bull selling for $33,000 at a North Island sale about a decade ago.

The top price in the history of the on-farm sale is $18,000.

"You just need two determined people who want the same bull."

Mr Paterson recalls soft demand at a sale resulted in him sending eight good bulls to the meatworks.

"We sent them away because we couldn’t keep them on, which was disappointing."

Another memorable moment was when a bull jumped out of the sale arena about 15 years ago.

Waikaka Station co-owner Ross Paterson prepares to host the 50th on-farm Hereford bull sale on...
Waikaka Station co-owner Ross Paterson prepares to host the 50th on-farm Hereford bull sale on the sheep and beef farm in Southland tomorrow.
"Luckily no-one got hurt, he just walked out past the people."

More precautions were installed to stop any future escapes.

Mrs Paterson showed cattle "back in the day" and a low point for her was when one of her favourite bulls sold.

"I remember crying my eyes out because it was going to Walter Peak Station and I knew he was going to be out the back in the boondocks and he was such an amazing natured bull."

Mrs Paterson said some sale results had been better than others.

"It is good to have your friends around when it is a bad one because you party anyway."

Local band Noise Complaint will perform after the sale tomorrow.

Mr Paterson said a band performed before to mark the 25th sale and the party had gone on until dawn.

"I don’t stay as long as I used to but two or three in the morning is not out of the way."

He hoped for a full clearance of the 24 polled Hereford bulls and eight heifer calves..

The bulls were by sires including Injemira Robert Redford, Waikaka Artillery and Mawarra Showtime.

Heifers are being offered for the first time in 50 years to celebrate the milestone sale.

"These are heifers right off the top."

Mrs Paterson said decades of breeding would be on show..

"You breed what you like and what you believe the market wants and you hope like hell somebody else likes it."

Six generations of the family have lived on the 750ha flat to rolling sheep and beef farm.

Laurie’s great grandfather John Kirkpatrick sold his share in a successful gold sluicing claim on the Clutha River near Millers Flat, to eventually buy nearly 900ha in Greenvale, north of Gore.

John’s son and Laurie’s grandfather Matthew Kirkpatrick took over the farm after returning from World War 1 and started breeding Hereford cattle from 1953.

The appeal of the Herefords was their placid nature compared to other breed and their tendency to leave establishing shelterbelts alone to grow.

Although they were more placid than other breeds in those early days, a Hereford bull would "have you" given a chance.

The temperament of the breed had improved astronomically, he said.

"Now they are so quiet they won’t get out of your way."

Waikaka Station co-owner Laurie Paterson and a bull which will be offered at the 50th Hereford...
Waikaka Station co-owner Laurie Paterson and a bull which will be offered at the 50th Hereford bull sale on the family farm in Southland tomorrow.
Laurie took over the farm from his parents Lorraine and Eric Paterson.

Laurie and Sharon’s son Ross works and lives on farm with his wife Steph and their children Ollie, 14, Emmie, 12 and Leo, 6.

The grandchildren were the sixth generation to live on the station.

Their other son Bill is a helicopter pilot and lives in Queenstown with his wife Rebecca and son Jimmy, 9.

When the pandemic hit the tourism sector, the family moved to Waikaka Station to live and work on the farm.

The foundations of the stud were laid by horned bulls Waikaka Silverton, Injemira Jamaica, Hikatu Lightning, Waikaka Desert Storm and Leader 07220.

The cornerstone sires of a shift to polled Herefords include Lake V101 "Bob", Monymusk Eiffel Tower, Otapawa Red Wolf and Matariki Jetson.

Senior herd sire Otapawa Red Wolf has sired 182 calves at Waikaka Station.

Hereford cattle were the "ultimate all rounders"

and the breed was in good heart, Laurie said.

Stud highlights in the past 50 years includes bulls being judged supreme at the National Hereford Expo Sale twice, a 9-year-old cow being crowned the supreme animal at the World Hereford Conference and a 2-year-old heifer judged best exhibit in show at the Wyndham A&P Show and a yearling bull being crowned the supreme animal at the Wānaka A&P Show.

The aim was to continue to gradually improving traits including structural soundness and meat yield.

"It is a good feeling knowing you are improving things."

His involvement with Hereford Prime NZ programme highlighted the importance of producing cattle with the right amount of meat and fat .

"I want to see something that is going to hang up well in the chiller."

Calving ease and low birth weight were also important.

"Once you’ve got a calf on the ground you can do something with it."

When asked if they were considering retiring, Mr Paterson said he was continuing his work with farming advocacy group Groundswell NZ to highlight issues such as councils raising rates bill at a time they should be "cutting their cloth", like everyone else was.

Mrs Paterson said she was ramping up her business to host weddings in her expansive garden.

"We don’t sit still well, at all."