Stuart Farm, Te Anau
It’s the way of farming these days.
When Landcorp’s Stuart Farm wanted a senior shepherd recently, they advertised for someone with two working dogs – who also keeps up-to-date and accurate records, has some computer skills and is willing to learn new systems. It’s a sign of the developing “measure it and improve it” approach in farming that’s been made possible by new technology.
In May 2013 Stuart Farm became an IQ Farm for the FarmIQ programme, with its mission to add value to red meat by linking on-farm and processing performance with eating quality. Key to this is a new Farm Management System, which provides farmers with an integrated farm database centred around an interactive map.
Stuart Farm, located in Fiordland’s Te Anau Basin, is well-placed to test-drive FarmIQ’s Farm Management System.
Overall, it’s a very well set-up property running three meat-producing species – sheep, deer and cattle – in an integrated manner to get the most out of the pasture and provide diverse income streams.
Long winters are the main challenge. Luke Wright, who’s managed the 2800ha property for the past two years, says they can expect 110 days of winter, with a few snowfalls and very little pasture growth. They have to be well-organised, with well-planned and manage forage systems, to ensure there’s enough supplementary feed for the 29,000 stock units that are wintered.
Also, while the three livestock species complement each other in many ways, he says it’s still quite a challenge to manage so many groups of stock.
Stuart Farm is run as an independent business unit, and any interactions with other Landcorp properties are done on a commercial basis – including sale of breeding stags, grazing on or off, or buying in steer calves.
The Stuart Farm team: manager Luke Wright (left) with partner Nicola Esler and stock manager Kris Harrison
Luke Wright is originally from Te Anau and previously managed a Wanaka property that finished deer and lambs and grazed dairy cattle.
“I enjoy the challenge of improving things and the variety of work. Landcorp are good to work for too – they have good systems and good training.”
Stuart Farm’s deer operations – a 600-hind Red stud herd and a commercial herd of 3,800 Red hinds – generate 60 percent of its income. Landcorp Wapiti are used as terminal sires.
The maternal stud herd of 600 Red hinds is run in a separate area for disease protection and produces venison-type sire stags for Landcorp and external clients, as part of a breeding programme run across five Landcorp properties that also produces Wapiti sires. The breeding programme has been guided for several years by progeny testing and a careful measurement programme, including CT scanning of around 30 stud weaner stags each year at Invermay to analyse carcase conformation, as well as ultrasound scanning of all the male yearlings to determine eye muscle area.
FARMIQ TO LIFT PERFORMANCE
The overall aim at Stuart Farm is to consistently produce quality stock, targeting net farm profit of $35 per stock unit. As Luke points out, they’ve got around $4.5 million worth of livestock on the property and they want to get the best-possible return on that investment. They’re looking to FarmIQ’s Farm Management System to help lift farm performance further.
All Stuart Farm’s cattle and deer are EID-tagged, and weights and data captured through automatic drafters, Gallagher reader panels and indicators in its sheds are linked with the individual animal ID. Sheep are tagged by age group, including finishing and replacement lambs.
So, the Stuart team are accustomed to working data capture in to their daily farm management.
Stuart Farm’s stock manager Kris Harrison runs the team day to day, and this means he has an important role in the IQFarm, Luke points out, as he and his team are responsible for collecting the data “to plan, on time and accurately”.
“It gets easier as you develop and refine your systems,” says Luke. “You do have to have the right hardware in place. But it’s not much more work because we combine it with other events – like drenching or shearing. For weaner deer, calves and lambs, we’re weighing them regularly anyway. Jobs might take 10 percent longer.”
FARMIQ BRINGS IT TOGETHER
While there are other farm software systems on the market, the advantage of FarmIQ is that it makes all the farm data available “in one place” says Luke. This means entering a piece of data once and being able to use it for all kinds of analysis and reporting.
“Also, we’ll be able to manage all our animals as individuals rather than groups, which will be more powerful.”
FarmIQ not only links together aspects of animals, land and feed on the farm, but also meat yield and quality information from the processing plant. That linkage with what happened once the animal left the property and its value to the consumer is “the best bit” according to Luke.
“For example, next deer slaughter season we’re going to be able to put all the carcase attributes into our FarmIQ Farm Management System and link that with the animal’s history on the farm.
As an IQ Farm, Luke is welcoming the engagement with FarmIQ farm systems specialists who are working with them to see how FarmIQ can help them make progress towards achieving their goals and targets. “It also gives us access to other farmers doing leading-edge things.”
Luke wants to raise the reproductive performance of all three species on Stuart Farm. For example, he wants the mixed-age ewes above 150%: in 2012 they lambed 137%.
He’s got a multi-faceted plan of attack to achieve this – which includes selecting replacements earlier and then targeting growth rates, and feeding breeding animals better at critical times, for example by pre-mating weaning so that dams can be fed up before the sires go out.
He also plans to use the FMS to “get rid of animals that are not performing”. With this system there’s really nowhere for an animal to hide. The ewes are being weighed a couple of times a year and scanning results are being added, so analysis will show who’s pulling her weight – and who’s not.
Luke’s goals also include finishing deer earlier. To help with this, he is using scanning date information to categorise each hind in the database (as well as a sample of ewes) as “early, mid or late”.
“We can then select for early breeders. We’re pretty sure it’s a heritable trait. That should help bring our fawning date forward. I’d like to bring the mean slaughter date forward two months – from January 25 to November 25.”
At the moment the FarmIQ’s Farm Management System is still in development and Luke is feeling impatient to have all the functionalities, particularly around reporting – “Hurry up” is his message.
This is one farming team keeping the foot on the accelerator.
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