Simple but efficient bull beef finishing for Pattullo farm
An intensive pastoral system is proving a success story for a Hawke's Bay beef farmer. Kate Taylor went to investigate.
A 'simple but efficient' system means Hawke's Bay farmers Robert and Helen Pattullo finish more than 1000 bulls every season without supplementary feed, crops or excessive nitrogen use.
The result of the intensive pastoral system is impressive pasture quality. Robert Pattullo says the use of Farmax, a computer program that offers possible solutions to different feed scenarios, allows them to delve deeper into pasture growth, livestock capability and seasonal flexibility.
"We're totally pasture based, environmentally friendly and low cost. The system suits me and it suits the land. With the help of the Farmax data we are able to repeat what we do year in and year out and start each new trading year fully stocked again. Resting the farm from February to late April is a big part of that."
Newstead's farming system centres around bull beef finishing.
Two thirds of the 817ha (effective) property, which is near Puketapu in the Hastings distric,t is broken into one-hectare cells with single wire electrics and permanent reticulated water. The Pattullos buy 1100 R2 bulls in April/May, carry them through winter/spring and sell between November and February.
The farm's average annual pasture production over the past 12 years is 5700 kilograms of dry matter per hectare with an annual carcass weight production of 134,000kg. It winters 875kg of live weight per hectare in the cell system.
The remainder of the farm is too steep for the cells and carries finishing bulls more extensively as well as a small number of breeding ewes and 85 breeding cows to help manage pasture quality. All weaner heifers are sold in March and weaner bulls enter the bull finishing system and are sold as two year olds.
AgRecord is used to store farm records, animal health records, kill sheets, soil tests, annual accounts and legal documents. Daily and weekly planning and health and safety issues are recorded on large whiteboards in the woolshed and collated in conjunction with stock manager Zane Brink.
"Everyone can see what everyone else is doing. We use the white boards because you can store the stuff on computer files until you're blue in the face but it's not visible. When you're dealing with 30 to 40 mobs of cattle the information needs to be visible."
Robert and Helen are aware they farm in a sensitive catchment and have a duty to ensure their farming practices are not having an adverse effect on the Ahuriri Estuary catchment. He says their locality just behind Napier with the farm dissected by Puketitiri Road means they're a shop front for farming.
"We have an enormous number of cyclists going past every day. One thing always at the back of our mind is we have to be seen to be doing the right thing."
Intensification has allowed for reduced grazing pressure on areas sensitive to erosion or potentially valuable from a biodiversity perspective. There is an on-going programme of fencing waterways and planting natives following a Hawke's Bay Regional Council environment plan done in 2007.
"We're doing something every year and to be honest, it's very rewarding. There's a block we only planted four years ago and the trees are coming up nicely and it's so satisfying. We're seeing lots of bird life there now such as kereru, quail, tui, bellbirds and pheasants. I haven't introduced any of them. There are frogs croaking away too."
The farm has 70 hectares of pinus radiata ranging in age from seven to 24 years. Poplar poles are also planted every year.
Soils are mainly Crownthorpe sandy loam and Matapiro silt loam with large areas of limestone as well. Erosion is possible in heavy rain so kanuka has been left on steeper country, which also offers shade and shelter. Robert says little nitrogen is used on the farm except to lift cow calving areas in late winter. The farm's annual fertiliser application is a sulphur super blend with 25 units of P and 30 units of S with some potash.
The Pattullos won the soil management award in this year's East Coast Ballance Farm Environment Awards, where they were one of five finalists.
Robert is past president of the Hawke's Bay A&P Society, chairman of the Eastern District Council of the Royal Agricultural Society and a trustee on the Hawke's Bay Rescue Helicopter Trust, as well as a Justice of the Peace and a member of the Rotary Club of Taradale. Helen works at interior design store Hutchinson's in Hastings.
Newstead has been in the Pattullo family for more than 100 years – a legacy Robert and Helen would like to see continue.
The familly legacy began when Patrick Pattullo moved to Hawke's Bay from Otago in 1914. Robert's grandfather Lindsay took over, then parents Brian and Jocelyn.
Robert and Helen started leasing part of the 935ha farm (817ha effective) in 1989.
"We've grown up with family stories about the place," Robert says.
"They've farmed through difficult times... through the depression, war, the Hawke's Bay earthquake... and we've had the benefit of their reflection through those times.
"Also how farming practices have changed. The tragic move away from wool farming to a more trading element and increased production. Now we have the next wave of change around environmental compliance, which is the expectation of our consumers now and that's fine. We don't have a problem with that at all, hence our involvement in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. We wanted to see how we were going. Obviously we're doing okay but still have a long way to go. That's our next challenge."
With son Matt farming in New South Wales and daughter Georgina working as a dietician in Hamilton, Robert says succession planning is still being worked through.
"It's a moving target but we're going through that process now. Who knows what the future will be but we're using what we have to create further options – that's important. We're fourth generation here and Helen and I want someone else to enjoy it as we have."