Ratahiwi and Horizon Farming helping to protect Woodville's water supply
A crowd-funding campaign has been launched to help protect Woodville's water supply. Kate Taylor visited the farm in the Million Metres spotlight.
Discussion ranges from fencing and logging to the state of the track after the latest rain as Ratahiwi manager Damon Husband and Horizon Farming managing director Stuart Elllingham drive through the property.
Several pine woodlots have been harvested on the 804ha farm (760ha effective) and will be replanted in due course. Also due to be planted this winter is a tributary to the Mangapapa Stream that runs through one of two QEII National Trust covenants (total 17.5ha). The trust and Horizon Farming have launched a crowd-funding campaign with Million Metres to raise $27,550 for 4500 plants to help restore a 1900m stretch of the stream.
The Horizons Regional Council contributed funds towards fencing when the covenant was first established in 2006 and is involved with water monitoring at the site. The Tararua District Council also owns a section of land in the middle of Ratahiwi, where water is taken from the Mangapapa Stream for the Woodville town water supply.
Ratahiwi is the southern-most of the six blocks owned and leased by Horizon Farming Ltd. Ellingham says the company is committed to improving productivity and implementing regenerative practices on Ratahiwi.
"We have promised to match any funds raised by the crowdfunding campaign dollar for dollar and will spend that money on native restoration and enhancement."
Water health is a management priority on the company's farms.
"We want to create a positive environmental legacy for our grandkids and our grandkids' grandkids and with the help of generous donors we will be one step closer to doing that."
He says because the land being planted is in covenant, it is protected in perpetuity for those future generations.
"We are aware the area has to be kept pristine. Full stop. There is a responsibility there on us as the landowners."
Trust spokesperson Genevieve Bennett says it is the fifth Million Metres project. The previous four have raised about $80,000 towards waterway restoration work on covenanted properties.
"To support restoration for this stream, and ultimately for the Manawatu River, go to the millionmetres.org.nz website and clink on the link to the Mangapapa Stream Ratahiwi Farm project and contribute to a few metres of planting."
The cost for this project is $14.50 a metre.
Ratahiwi's previous owners started the covenant process and Horizons Farming finished it when they bought the farm in April 2012.
But the main focus has been improving the farm's production to help it pay its own way, which includes the extra environmental work.
"We've concentrated on pasture quality first," says Husband.
"Horizon Farming certainly farms with the environment and people in mind. Obviously it's still a business though so we're improving the pasture across the board to take it from a start-up property scanning 130-140 per cent to now docking 130-140 per cent."
Ratahiwi carries 3000 highlander ewes and 250 stabiliser cows and finishes up to 300 friesian bulls.
The ewes are run in a closed maternal flock with its own replacements. There are A and B flocks, which are being developed and over time should become one quality A flock.
"The composite sheep do well when they're fed… and we feed them well."
The farm supplies some store lambs to Horizon Farming after killing as many as they can at weaning, depending on the season, at an average 18kg carcass weight.
Lambs and bulls are supplied to Progressive Meats and Anzco respectively.
The bulls are bought as 100kg calves mainly from the South Island, but locally if the supply is available.
"We take them through one winter and they're sold store or killed before the next winter. They usually make at least 280kg on the hook."
Weaner steers from the farm's breeding cows are transferred to other properties within Horizon Farming at weaning.
"There's also another property within the company that grows out and mates the heifers and then supplies me with in-calf heifers as replacements for my herd."
The bulls are wintered on 12ha of kale.
"We need enough crop to keep the bulls off the platform for the winter but that is also in-line with our re-grassing programme. We did a six to seven year plan when Horizon Farming first bought the property but that has been adapted in the past five years as we found out more information about the farm and individual paddocks."
Ellingham says kale is a low risk crop.
"It is easy to grow, high yielding and the bulls like it. We get good winter bull growth rates from it."
Husband says last winter was the best kale crop they had ever had with growth rates ranging from 0.5kg to 1.2kg a day.
"We also use a short-term ryegrass as a short rotation break crop allowing for a double spray out of areas that are too wet for the kale."
Being summer wet, the property doesn't need to grow crops to feed animals in summer.
Boosting production and the added income from the logging has also meant an increase in the farm's operating budget.
"The more money we make, the more money we get for fertiliser so the whole farm has an extensive fertiliser programme this year instead of leaving out the extensive pieces."
Ratahiwi has two blocks – Whariti is steep hill country under the Te Apiti wind farm. It is extensive and has bigger paddocks than the bottom block, which is easy hill country and better for both breeding and finishing.
Husband has two permanent staff working with him on Ratahiwi – usually an experienced shepherd general alongside a less experienced person.
As the farm's manager, Husband has a great story of his own to tell.
Born and bred in urban Auckland, a visit by a farming cousin tempted him away from his schooling.
"He had left school early and was farming in Australia on a massive property. They came over for Christmas and told me all about it. I thought it sounded good because I was only mucking around at school."
He put an ad in the newspaper – young, fit, outdoor guy wanting work on a farm, preferably dry stock – and got a reply from Rob Telfer, who was then farming at Ohura in the King Country.
"He answered the ad and was willing to take a chance on a 16 year old from South Auckland. From there I worked around the North Island moving to bigger properties with big teams of dogs and horses… that was the kind of farming I wanted.
"When I was at Lochinvar I applied to Horizon Farming for a job I thought was a stock manager. I didn't get the job but Chook (Stuart) kept my name."
About a year later, after Husband had returned to the King Country, Horizon Farming had the perfect job for him.
"I had interviewed Damon and knew his strengths and weaknesses and thought this manager's position on this farm would be great for him," Ellingham says.
"The past five years has proven it was the right move for us," adds Husband.