Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Low-input farm a developer’s dream

Jeremy Leigh admits he and his family are relative novices when it comes to bull farming.

Now, having just bought a neighbouring bull-finishing unit, they are learning fast.

The Leighs took over the new block late in September 2012, also buying 114 R2 and R3 Friesian bulls and about 100 ewes from the previous owner.

The new block borders the Leigh’s 403ha home farm and consists largely of rolling to medium-hill contour split into about 34 paddocks.

The Leighs have named it “Bothwell Pecos” – Pecos being the original name of the Hereford stud on the farm.

Pecos had been run under a low input system, with minimal fertiliser and repairs and maintenance during the past 30 years or more. About 190ha of the block is estimated as effective.

The Leighs paid around $5400/ha for the farm and Jeremy Leigh described it as a “developer’s dream”.

Despite the low inputs, pastures are in pretty good shape with a good mix of clover and ryegrass, and the block has a good balance of gently rolling contour ideal for cell grazing.

The next challenge for the Leighs is to re-fence, re-water and de-gorse the farm, address any soil fertility issues, and develop a stock policy that will suit the block and generate a good return.

Jeremy estimates development work will increase the effective area of the farm by at least 10ha, but options are limited until access, water and fencing are up to scratch, and the family plans to carry on with the bulls while they decide what stock policy or mix of policies best suit the block.

While they are new to bull farming, the Leighs have been pleasantly surprised by “how quiet the bulls are once you take the bigger, more aggressive bulls out”.

Of the original bulls, which averaged 500kg LW when the block was bought, 58 were sold by November 21. The remainder should be sold by the end of February.

Pecos is also grazing 100 yearling bulls from October to May/June, and this year the Leighs hand-reared 80 Friesian bull calves of their own.

To maintain pasture quality in early summer, they shut up a proportion of Pecos and harvested about 300 tonnes of pit silage. 

An upgrade of fencing and water supply is needed to get the new block humming.

 At the Beef + Lamb Farming For Profit field day on the farm in December, Jeremy Leigh outlined the family’s reasons for buying more land.

He said the new block added scale to their existing operation, bringing the total area to 658ha, or about 582ha effective. The non-effective area includes native bush, gorse, manuka, streams and roading.

The addition of Pecos gives the family the economic scale to keep on farming while contributing to future succession planning.

It also offered some sentimental value, with Pecos being part of a block sold by Jeremy’s grandfather back in the 1950s.

Pecos’s development potential, its location on the boundary and the previous owner’s willingness to sell were other key factors in the decision.

Jeremy said the family’s objective is to work together, enjoy the farming lifestyle and, eventually, “transfer a beautiful and productive farm to successive generations”. 

Creating a sustainable income from the farming business is crucial, and the Leighs have set themselves a lofty economic farm surplus (EFS) target of $400/effective hectare from an operation that runs 50% sheep and 50% cattle.

After a string of good years, the EFS sits around $373/effective hectare, but Jeremy says this is based on estimated farm management costs of $60,000 which possibly undervalues the true labour input.

Another key goal is to reduce debt “significantly” over five years.

Jeremy said that by working efficiently and farming profitably, the family would have time and money to enjoy the farm and their hobbies. He and Brian both love flying. They own their own plane and the farm has its own airstrip and aircraft hangar. Stacey is a keen horsewoman and breeds, trains and sometimes sells horses for stock work and hunting.

Jeremy divides his time between the farm and his sheep and beef veterinary consultancy business, Ruminant Health Solutions. On the farm his roles include managing the bulls, overseeing the animal health programme, farm accounts, and development work. Stacey is the stock manager and carries out all the breeding work, weed control, and sheep and cattle mustering on Bothwell. Brian keeps the machinery in running order and fences with Jeremy. When not babysitting, Judi helps with mustering, feeding dogs, and weed control. Sharna and Marty help at busy times, such as crutching, shearing and silage making.

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