Mixing it up to improve station's returns
Beef cows play an important role on Glenlapa Station.
They groom the pastures for the sheep, improve utilisation of the native hill country and provide another income stream for station owners Charlie and Emma Smaill.
"They are an important part of our business," Charlie said.
Charlie's parents, Charlie and Ailsa Smaill, bought Glenlapa Station in 1976 and hereford cattle have been part of the landscape for just as long.
The Smaills currently farm about 550 mixed-age cows and 220 in-calf heifers as well as 9400 Headwater ewes and 3000 replacement ewe hoggets on their effectively 4500-hectare property at Wendonside in Northern Southland.
It's a tough, challenging environment to farm in, with Charlie describing the climate as a unique mix of Central Otago and Southland.
He and Emma leased Glenlapa, which comprises 1000ha of regrassed area, 2500ha of fertilised hill and 1000ha of native country, before they bought it in 2005.
Through the tenure review process, they lost about 550ha to the Department of Conservation but, in June this year, they bought a further 250ha.
A Beef + Lamb New Zealand field day, held on the property earlier this month, showed how beef cows could be profitable when integrated with sheep.
The cattle are producing a trading profit of $72 to $78 per stock unit.
Charlie explained how the commercial and Glenlapa stud cows run together most of the year but are separated from calving in early October until weaning in late March.
The cows calve a few weeks after the main ewes on the hill and they typically achieve an 80 to 85 per cent calving rate.
The Smaills acknowledge the calving rate could be better, but the cows tend to do it tough over the winter which can be particularly long and arduous.
"The cattle are not our highest priority when it comes to feeding," Charlie said.
The cows follow the ewes around a winter rotation on the hill and calve among the ewes from October 10 onwards.
By comparison, the rising two-year heifers, which are wintered on the hill behind the sheep, are brought down to the flats for calving before shedding out.
Every cow must rear a calf to retain its place in the herd and those that don't get in-calf or fail to rear a calf to weaning are culled.
The herd has a significant number of older cows because the Smaills refuse to cull on age.
December is a particularly busy month on Glenlapa, with calf marking and sorting out the cull cows, which includes the wet dries, and preparing the cows for the bull.
The bulls are used at a ratio of one to 50 cows on the flats and one to 40 on the hill, and are with the cows for at least two cycles. The empty rate typically varies from 8 per cent to 15 per cent.
The calves are weaned in late March and the bull calves are sorted into various mobs according to their size with many sold to the dairy industry.
"The biggest bulls are fed the best because we are targeting the yearling market. We aim to get them as close to 400 kilograms as we can," Charlie said.
The cows are also pregnancy scanned and tested for tuberculosis in late March before going on to the native country at 700 to 1000 metres above sea level.
When weaned at 150 days old, the hill calves are usually 150kg to 170kg.
Both the bull calves and heifer calves are wintered on crop, and the aim is to get the heifers to a target mating weight of 280kg by December 10.
The bulls go out with the heifers at a ratio of 1 to 30 or 35, and calving is usually finished by tailing in early November.
A percentage of the bulls are carried through the second winter and the unsaleable ones are killed.
The Southland Times