Friday, December 8, 2023

Breeding is in the family blood

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A six-generation family history in stud breeding and a love of cows bodes well for the farming future of Tararua’s Niamh Barnett. Kate Taylor reports.
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Right down to the Hereford salt and pepper shakers on the kitchen table Herefords have always featured in Niamh Barnett’s life.

Niamh, 18, is the youngest member of the New Zealand Hereford Youth Breeders team competing at the World Hereford Conference in Central Otago in March and won the Young Fleece Judge of the Year title at the 2019 Royal Show.

“I’ve always been involved on the farm, right from when I was little. 

“I guess there were no babysitters away out here,” she says. 

“Herefords had always been dad’s passion and it obviously rubbed off on me.”

With her older brother James, 20, now a diesel mechanic in Dannevirke, the pair grew up with parents Phil and Lyn on the 1175ha farm, Te Mangahuia Station, at Akitio in Tararua District. They have the Kaitoa Hereford Stud and Lyn has a new Charollais sheep stud.  

Despite early knowledge of farming, Niamh says showing cattle in the Future Beef competition, which she started when she was still in primary school, opened her eyes to further opportunities with cattle. 

“You learn so much and from different points of view, 100%. It’s a youth focus event and there are always some industry legends there. 

“Sometimes they were talking to us all and sometimes you can just go and have a yarn to them. It was so different from learning at school.”

With 2019 academic results having gone to plan Niamh is off to Lincoln University to do an agricultural science degree. It’s too early to say if she will end up farming. 

“I do know I want a career in agriculture and I want it closely related to inside the front gate, maybe consultant or fert rep. I don’t know that I’m cut out for shepherding but I would like to keep the stud going. We have family history tied up in the stud and I do like cows. It’s pretty cool watching a calf grow up from selectively breeding its sire and mum and producing animals you’re proud of.”

A three-year-old sire bull at Kaitoa Herefords, Akitio.

“I’ve found working with most meat companies they are engaged and it’s a win-win for everyone if we know what the markets require. I have had the benefit of seeing the carcases on the line at both SFF and through Hereford Prime processors as well – that’s a really powerful opportunity.” 

The farm has 11ha of fodder beet – the Barnetts were early adopters of the crop five years ago after buying a precision drill in partnership with a local contractor. 

“For feed efficiency, yield and contented stock I find it extremely hard to beat. Initially it was on the irrigated alluvial river flats, which had some benefits, but for the past two years we have been trying it on more rolling hill country, with success. We’re getting an understanding of its limitations and opportunities.”

The irrigated flats are now planted with an annual or summer chicory-clover mix in a bid to use both the flats and the water more in summer. 

The farm has 40ha of pines planted pre-89 with three lots already harvested. Another 200ha is planned. 

“We have done a Sustainable Land Use Initiative plan identifying low-performing paddocks and those with waterways so we can target those areas and enhance the environment.”

About 90% of their boundary with the Akitio River is fenced.

As well as previously being NZ Herefords president Phil was also Beef Expo chairman for two years. He has done governance courses through Farmlands and SFF and a Know Your Co-operative course through Alliance.

“They were great networking experiences and gave me a better understanding of the nuances within the industry and pressures that are evident. They were powerful. We had access to management, senior management, directors and independent directors and we were able to tap into their knowledge and experience to get practical insights into the co-operatives and the challenges and constraints they face,” he says. 

“I like getting my hands dirty physically but networking and governance is good for your brain. I have met so many people from so many different spheres of NZ and globally and I enjoy that. 

“Like Niamh I have been fortunate to travel and meet a lot of breeders in Australia and North America. None of it is about winning prizes and ribbons. It is about meeting people and understanding different perspectives.”

The adventure will continue in 2020. Phil is chairman of the team organising the World Hereford Conference. He has been on the Hereford Council for 10 years and will retire at the next annual meeting.

“Life is about getting the appropriate balance – working hard and playing hard. For me, with Herefords, it has been about giving back. I have had so many opportunities given to me throughout the world. It’s about enhancing agriculture, enhancing NZ’s reputation. We have a lot to showcase whether it be in farm technology or farm management systems, breeding programmes, grass development. We should be showcasing our products to the world,” he says. 

“The Hereford family is a pretty cool family although I know I’m biased. The opportunities are there. It’s up to Niamh to take them up. The world is her oyster. It’s up to her to drive it.”

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