Critical look required to increase production
When the McLauchlan family bought their Mid Canterbury farm in 2011 they were starting out with a clean slate. There was no stock on the 430ha "Glengyle" when they purchased it, so the family initially relied on dairy support and crops to generate an income while they gradually built up sheep and beef numbers. They have since leased a neighbouring 300ha property. They bought "Glengyle" after selling their mixed cropping farm in North Canterbury to dairy interests.
Don McLauchlan says they were keen to move to a sheep and beef area, and get away from irrigation and the intensive management it requires. Jutting up against the Canterbury foothills near Mt Somers, "Glengyle" sits at between 400m and 480m above sea level. Half the farm is flat and the balance is rolling downs – so it is all cultivable but most importantly it is relatively summer-safe, which was part of the property's appeal. The farm is very much a family business and was bought with a view to succession. Don farms alongside his wife Sharon and adult children Ben and Sarah. Ben specialises in the sheep while Sarah takes responsibility for the tractor work and cattle. Both Ben and Sarah have invested in stock. "Glengyle" is now running 1500 breeding ewes, 70 beef cows, 206 R2 beef cattle, 320 autumn-purchased beef calves and 310 Angus steers for the Five Star feedlot. The family also grazes 3000 lambs every summer and winter for ANZCO Foods. Having built stock numbers, the family is now looking at ways to maximise production while making best use of their resources.
Last year they joined ANZCO Foods in the RMPP programme and through the programme, are taking a critical look at their business to determine where the opportunities lie to increase production. Having bought in-lamb Romney ewes from capital stock sales, the family know they have sheep with productive potential and these ewes have not disappointed. Last year the replacement-breeding ewes weaned 164% and this year scanned 184%. Even their hogget's scanned a very pleasing 125% this year. With fertility inherent in this flock, the MacLauchlan's are now determined to allow the ewes to express their genetic potential through feeding. Last year they grew 100ha of cash crops, but poor returns saw them change focus and now crops are grown for animal feed and as break crops, as part of a pasture renewal programme. Crops such as Italian ryegrass, grazing maize, clover and plantain and fodder beet and kale are now being used for growing out and wintering stock. Don says the grazing maize worked well filling a cattle-feed deficit in autumn and clover and plantain was ideal for finishing lambs. As part of the RMPP programme, Don, Sarah and Ben visited a number of high performing farms. Having seen how the clover and plantain mix worked for these farmers gave the MacLauchlan's the confidence to try it on their own farm. Don says it worked brilliantly for finishing lambs and growing young stock and they will be doubling the area they have in the specialist forage mix from 20-40ha. Being part of the RMPP programme has given Ben and Sarah access to new ideas and innovations as well as a support network, including ANZCO staff and farm systems scientist Tom Fraser. They have recently carried out comprehensive whole-farm soil tests which has given them a picture of the fertility status of the whole property. Don says while fertility was better than they expected and they are carrying out capital fertiliser applications on smaller areas as they work through crops and renew pastures. As part of their focus on growing forages to drive stock performance, the family is weighing animals on an upgraded scales and measuring and recording how they perform on different feeds. A new electronic identification wand has also been a useful tool in recording livestock performance. One of the trials they have been carrying out is comparing cattle live weight gains on fodder beet and kale crops. This year they have 20ha in fodder beet and 30ha in kale, and depending on the outcomes of the trial, they may increase the area in fodder beet or try growing swedes. They also have 40ha in green feed oats and Italian ryegrass crops which are used for fattening lambs through the winter. Coming from a cropping background, the family have a handle on growing crops. They are now turning their attention to fine-tuning their livestock management. Being part of RMPP has allowed the family to identify and focus on what they are wanting to achieve within their business. Don says he has never been part of any farming group before and is relishing the opportunity to get new ideas and management strategies. "I'm getting a lot out of it already". As he points out, with no history on the property, they are viewing the business as a clean slate and are looking forward to working as a family, to realise its potential.
Photo credit to Fairfax.