Caberfeidh Station finishes whopping 14,500 Te Mana lambs on chicory

Caberfeidh manager Andrew Harding, left, with fattening manager Jason Sutherland.
Tony Benny

Caberfeidh manager Andrew Harding, left, with fattening manager Jason Sutherland.

Caberfeidh Station finished a staggering 28,500 lambs last season and credits a new feed regime that includes chicory for getting half of them directly to the meat processors.

Last year station block manager Jason Sutherland took on finishing 50 per cent of the targeted number of Omega Lamb Project lambs on chicory- a tremendous responsibility as he had little experience with the crop.

Caberfeidh in the Hakataramea Valley joined the Omega Lamb Project in 2015. The project is a Primary Growth Partnership between Headwaters, Alliance Group and the Ministry for Primary Industries. Te Mana lamb, which comes from a composite animal developed by Headwaters, is the outcome of the project and commands a premium over standard lamb because of its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids and polyunsaturated (good) fats.

Ewes and lambs graze chicory with red and white clover on Caberfeidh, in Hakataramea Valley.
Tony Benny

Ewes and lambs graze chicory with red and white clover on Caberfeidh, in Hakataramea Valley.

Chicory growing hasn't been all plain sailing, Sutherland said.

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"Caberfeidh first grew chicory in 2014, 20 hectares to start with. It was an utter disaster. We didn't know much about it, went in blind, without having done much research.

Managing chicory growth is a special skill.
Tony Benny

Managing chicory growth is a special skill.

"We took the residual too low and let it get too high. Because it is such a specialised crop, it needed some adjustment. The first year was a write-off.

"The next year we had 30ha, and that was a lot better. We worked with Agricom and got our residuals to a better height, and it improved a lot."

Over the summer of 2015-16 chicory, mixed with red and white clover, was grazed by 8600 lambs for four months from mid-December. Last season 14,500 lambs were fattened on 173ha of chicory at 82 stock units to the hectare. The property's remaining 14,000 terminal lambs were fattened on lucerne and lucerne-mix.

Sutherland said the management principles of chicory were similar to lucerne, but it was "a lot trickier" and more sensitive to the environment.

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"The first year because our residuals were quite long we were losing a lot of crop. By the second year we figured out our rotational grazing, and it went a lot better. Now we have the residuals and grazing down pat, I think.

"We usually finish the lambs for a mean of 40 days, some longer depending on weight. Weather played a big part this year. Chicory slows down quite a lot during the cold and lamb growth as well.

"It needs those sunshine hours. This year there was a lack of sunshine so the season didn't go as well as it could have. The lambs were on it longer than ideal."

Sutherland said going into the third season, he was looking for ways to make the chicory last. He lost half his plants during Cyclone Bola back in April and in retrospect should have pulled the lambs off the crop.

"At that stage, we were a bit dry, and I had ewes flushing and nowhere to put the lambs. If the same thing happens this season, I will pull the lambs off and try and spell it.

"We are working with Agricom to figure out whether to just broadcast some seed through it or spray out all the grasses and spin some chicory over."

Sutherland is still trying to figure out a rotation plan for the chicory.

"Ideally I would have liked it to be longer but we will probably go fodder beet to chicory, possibly sow some Italian [ryegrass] through it and fatten lambs on that. And then back into fodder beet and then into chicory. Probably a five-year rotation."

"Once the lambs are on chicory they stay there purely on the gut change. We are trying to reduce the check in growth as much as we can."

Caberfeidh had learned the importance of getting lambs on to chicory "sooner than you think."

"You know it's going to get hot and you know it's going to grow fast and you can't let it get away on you," Sutherland said.

"If you let it get above 20 centimetres the lambs will trample it, and utilisation is on the way down."

"We have a saying with lucerne that if you think stock need to be shifted tomorrow do it today but with chicory, we have found if you think you have two days left you need to shift them today."

Sutherland said the Omega Lamb Project had helped them develop a farming system. " You can't just chuck some lambs on chicory - it's a real farm system involving genetics, breeding, traceability and support for farmers."

So how does Te Mana Lamb taste?

"A lot more tender," Sutherland said." It's not that lamby, not at all dry. It's bloody good."

 - Stuff

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