Special kind of breed in the Maniototo

FAMILY FOCUS: Drew and Carolyn Dundass are continuing a family tradition of breeding top-quality charolais cattle.
FAMILY FOCUS: Drew and Carolyn Dundass are continuing a family tradition of breeding top-quality charolais cattle.

Purebred charolais cattle are a rare sight in the Maniototo.

For Paerau Valley farmers Drew and Carolyn Dundass, they are their bread and butter.

Carolyn's father, Tom Aitken, introduced charolais cattle to their 1577-hectare hill-country property, Glen Ayr, in the mid-1960s and the Dundasses are continuing a family tradition of breeding top-quality charolais bulls.

Carolyn, who farmed alongside her father and now manages the property with Drew, is clear about what she likes about charolais cattle.

"Muscling and good confirmation are important," she says.

"But we also select heavily on temperament."

The Dundasses' Taiaroa charolais stud comprises 82 mixed-age cows, but they also farm another 61 mixed- age charolais cows from Napier farmer Don Organ's Cotswold stud.

Both families have entered into a sharefarming agreement where the Dundasses retain 50 per cent of the progeny from the Cotswold cows.

"It works really well," Carolyn says. "Don has got some lovely cattle."

The Dundasses also farm 70 rising 2- and 3-year heifers, four sire bulls and 60 rising 2-year bulls, the latter of which will be auctioned at their on-farm sale in late May.

Alongside their cattle operation, they farm 2650 texel-cross ewes and 620 ewe hoggets which they mate to a texel-romney ram.

They eventually aim to stabilise the ewe flock as texel-romney.

Glen Ayr has been in the Aitken family since 1926, and has been farmed by several generations of Aitkens.

It also incorporates Glenfield, a 600ha finishing property on the Maniototo Plain and a 343ha run block which is managed by Carolyn's sister, Dawn Sangster, and Dawn's husband, David.

Carolyn's father, Tom, ran shorthorn cattle on Glen Ayr up until the mid-1960s but, after viewing charolais cattle at Waimate, he decided to artificially inseminate six cows.

He was delighted with the resulting calves and went on to establish one of the country's first charolais purebred herds.

The Dundasses are focused on breeding American polled bulls, which are more suited to their farm, leave easier calving stock with less bone, but still achieve good weight gains.

A recent open day at Glen Ayr gave bull buyers and other farmers the chance to view the cows and calves, sale bulls and stud sires on the K-Line irrigated river flats.

Irrigation is essential in the summer-dry climate and necessary for lamb finishing, making baleage and striking winter crops.

Winters can be long and hard, and the Dundasses plan for a 120-day winter by having plenty of supplementary feed on hand.

This includes 200 bales of hay, 800 tonnes of silage, 180 bales of baleage, 10 tonnes of barley, and 26ha planted in kale, rape, turnips and italian Ryegrass.

The cows are wintered on autumn- saved hill country at more than 900 metres above sea level and they receive no supplements unless it snows.

The cows are brought down to the paddocks for calving in late August so the birth date of the calves can be recorded. The calves are tagged and vaccinated in early November and are rotated around the river flats in the summer to maintain feed quality.

They are then weaned, drenched and weighed, and rotated around the hill paddocks until feed dictates that they start their winter supplements.

The calves are break-fed on Goliath rape, with the break shifted daily and have access to lucerne baleage, and hay in feeders.

The sale bulls are selected in April, at which time they are vet checked, eye-muscle scanned and have a beef-class structural assessment. Last year's sale bulls averaged $4300.

The couple's large herd size means they can cull heavily and cull bulls are processed at Alliance's new beef plant at Mataura.


Managed by Drew and Carolyn Dundass, the 1577-hectare property includes:

-785ha summer country

-260ha hill faces

-320ha paddocks

-212ha river flats


-82 mixed-age Taiaroa charolais cows

-61 mixed-age Cotswold charolais cows

-21 rising 3-year heifers

-50 rising 2-year heifers

-48 rising 2-year Taiaroa bulls

-12 rising 2-year Cotswold bulls

-4 mixed-age herd sires


-2650 mixed-age ewes

-620 ewe hoggets

-56 mixed-age rams

Supplements on hand:

-200 bales of hay

-800 tonnes of silage

-180 bales of baleage

-10 tonne of barley

-26ha of kale, rape, turnips and Italian ryegrass

Average rainfall: 540mm

The Southland Times