Organic farming turns property around

DIANE BISHOP
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2013
Te Anau farmer Paul Ruddenklau, right, with Organic Futures director Neville Parkinson, is achieving fantastic growth rates from grazing his lambs on lucerne.
DIANE BISHOP/Fairfax NZ

ON TO A WINNER: Te Anau farmer Paul Ruddenklau, right, with Organic Futures director Neville Parkinson, is achieving fantastic growth rates from grazing his lambs on lucerne.

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Organic farming is sustainable, profitable and enjoyable.

KILBRANNAN FARM

-Managed by Paul and Tracey Ruddenklau

-Owned by James and Fiona Macdonald

-358ha near The Key

Stock

-2400 perendale ewes

-620 replacement ewe hoggets

-Tailing 140 to 150 per cent

-Buy in 90 calves April/May

-Steers finished at 290 to 300kgcw

-Heifers finished at 240 to 250kgcw

Just ask Paul Ruddenklau, who made the switch from conventional to organic farming more than eight years ago on Kilbrannan Farm, the property he manages in the Te Anau Basin.

But it hasn't been all plain sailing.

"There's no silver bullet.

"It comes down to hard work and finding a system that suits the property," Paul said.

Paul and his wife Tracey arrived at Kilbrannan Farm, near The Key, in 2003 after it had recently been bought by James and Fiona Macdonald.

The property had been leased for 10 years before the Macdonalds took it over.

It was in a dilapidated state with fencing and pastures run down and a poor fertiliser history. Animal health was also extremely poor.

After evaluating different systems, the Ruddenklaus decided to convert to organics in 2005 and achieved full Biogrow certification in 2008.

A field day, held on their property recently, was aimed at getting more farmers interested in converting to organics.

It also highlighted the Ruddenklaus' success in the 2013 Southland Ballance Farm Environment Awards where they won the Hills Laboratories Harvest Award and the Alliance Quality Livestock Award.

The Ruddenklaus farm 2400 perendale ewes - a breed well suited to organic farming and low inputs - and 620 ewe hogget replacements on a total of 358ha.

Kilbrannan Farm comprises a good mix of flat and rolling hill country but it's a challenging property to farm because of its climatic extremes.

It is prone to harsh cold winters and hot dry summers.

The ewes, which are mated to perendale rams from the Hazeldale stud at Moa Flat, are currently tailing around 140 to 150 per cent.

A portion of the ewes are also mated to terminal sire hampshire rams sourced from the Wendouree stud in Mid Canterbury.

The Ruddenklaus operate a split lambing with the older ewes lambing in mid September and the main ewes lambing in late September. The Te Anau Basin is traditionally a store lamb area but the Ruddenklaus are managing to finish a large number of their lambs at good weights. Last season they got 40 per cent away in a weaning draft at an average 17kg carcass weight.

The Ruddenklaus use organic drenches such as cider vinegar and Betavet for animal health and to control worm burdens.

All lambs are contracted through Organic Futures and last season they achieved an average $100 a head, down from $122 the previous season.

About 90 calves are also sourced every autumn.

The cattle are carried through to the following April and the steers are finished at 290 to 300kg carcass weight while the heifers are around 240 to 250kg cw.

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They are also contracted through Organic Futures, which supplies Canterbury Meat Packers.

The Ruddenklaus have had to get smarter at growing pastures and crops under their organic farming system and have learnt not to trust everyone who comes up the driveway.

"We've had to get smart about soil science. If you want something in the soil you have to put it there yourself," Mr Ruddenklau said.

Crop paddocks are soil tested and analysed at least a year before sowing to correct any deficiencies ahead of time.

All soil samples are taken by the Ruddenklaus and sent to the United States for analysis by Perry Laboratory using the Albrecht Kinsey model.

As well as growing swedes, they also grow turnips, summer rape, oats and peas.

The last conventional fertiliser was applied at Kilbrannan Farm in 2004 and all fertilisers and minerals are now sourced mainly from Livestock Supplies and Fernhill Limeworks.

Since going organic stock health has improved and bearings and metabolic problems have pretty much disappeared.

Stock graze a variety of pastures which contain ryegrass, cocksfoot, timothy, tall fescue, red and white clover, chicory and plantain.

The Ruddenklaus aim to be completely self-sustainable and lucerne has played a key role in helping them achieve this goal.

"We always wanted to grow our own feed.

"We don't want to rely on the generosity of others to get through the winter," Mr Ruddenklaus said.

The Ruddenklaus have previously sourced winter feed through Organic Futures but now enjoy producing their own supplements.

They get several cuts of lucerne a year, which they make into baleage, and also use the crop to finish their lambs.

However, it required intensive management with stock shifted every day or every second day and kept full to avoid bloat.

The lucerne is grazed by the bigger works lambs.

"We're achieving fantastic results," Mr Ruddenklau said.

The extra feed lucerne generated meant the Rudenklaus would put their hoggets to the ram next year after a seven-year break.

While weeds could be a problem on organic farms, this is kept to a minimum with clean lucerne crops, scuffling used in ridged swedes and a mulcher used on pastures to control excessive top and thistles.

- The Southland Times

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