Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Not fancy, just simple

Hamish and Fiona Wilson are best described as quiet achievers. Though they are getting great results, they admit to making mistakes and feeling like they still have a lot to learn. Into their seventh year on Fiona’s family farm at Clydevale, the understated confidence they have in their abilities is developing all the time. Their picturesque farm, 20 minutes northwest of Balclutha in south Otago, runs right down to the historic Tuapeka Punt on the mighty Clutha River and is close enough to Central Otago, which means there is a high tendency to be very warm and dry over summer.

The Wilsons’ daughter Dorothy shows the shearing gang how it should be done.

The Wilsons already own the stock and plant outright and hold about a one-third shareholding in the farming company with Fiona’s father Graeme Steel. The company owns the land and buildings and the goal is to eventually buy the company outright from Graeme.

Graeme is employed on the farm and does a lot of the tractor work and spraying. He also brings vital experience although Hamish and Fiona agree that he pretty much just leaves them to run the business the way they want.

This season’s lambing percentage (survival to sale) was 158%, which Hamish puts down to a number of things including good weather, that the ewes were in good condition and the scanning percentage was up 10% on normal following a good autumn. Normally the lambing average sits at 150%.

It hasn’t always been like this, though, as Hamish said he “pushed things too much initially” but the mistakes have taught him a lot and improved his management skills. He also credits his father-in-law Graeme who had good systems in place including shelter. 

Hamish said he doesn’t do anything fancy. “I keep it simple”.

Happy with how the ewes are lambing and their survivability, he is conscious of the increasing focus on meat yield and is working on getting more muscle without compromising on the traits already there. Texel genetics via a Wairere-cross and Coopworth-cross are being introduced.

Like many farmers, Hamish admits to finding ryegrass information confusing. He tends to stick with Samson because it fits with his system and grows well. All new pastures are sown out with chicory, plantain and red and white clover although next year Timothy and Cocksford will be included for variety. A high-sugar ryegrass was tested a few years ago and although Hamish said he was reasonably happy with it, it took longer to establish which created space for scotch thistles to get established too.

Winter brassicas consist of first crop swedes and second crop chou. Two thirds of the stock, which includes the hoggets, two-tooths and the B mob of mixed-aged ewes, is grazed on crop over winter.

The economics and logistics have been done on growing fodder beet but Hamish said the results don’t stack up enough to warrant the change, especially when compared with to a 15–18 tonne/ha swede crop, which is what he would normally grow.

In line with the Wilsons’ system of doing things well but simply, fertiliser is kept traditional too. Soil tests are done every second year to keep a check on things and annual maintenance fertiliser of superphosphate, sulphur and lime are applied. Hamish said the area is known for sulphur deficiency. Nitrogen is applied to young pasture and also used strategically in pressure situations such as last summer when the region was unseasonably drier than normal.

Animal health also focuses on sticking to the basics. Lambs get a 5in1 vaccination and long-acting B12 at tailing. Ewes receive a dose of iodine at pre-tup and prelamb and the two-tooths are vaccinated for toxoplasmosis and campylobacter.

Trace elements have been applied to pasture in the past but Hamish said the jury is still out for the cost of it. “I like the idea of it but until I know for sure there will be a noticeable benefit, we probably won’t be doing it again.”

The desire to move away from routine worm drenching put a stop to drenching any ewes last year for the first time. “It was something we wanted to do but didn’t want to take the plunge.” Hamish said if it looks like the ewes are taking a check from now on then a faecal egg test will be done.

In January the ewe lambs were stretched out to a six-week drench rotation and Hamish is keen to take this to two months before giving them a last drench a week before they go onto swedes in autumn.

Ewe hoggets are not mated although Hamish said he has been thinking about it. The biggest barrier is having to reduce ewe numbers to do it, which is hard when they are lambing so well.

A lot of the Wilsons’ information is sourced from informal avenues although specialised advice is sought from the vet and accountant when needed. Their bank manager is also used from time to time although Hamish laughs about telling the bank manager “don’t call me – I’ll call you”.

No farm consultant is used but Hamish said the local farm discussion group meeting is a great place to “fling ideas around”. He said he kind of has a general idea about a lot of things already but the farm discussion group and attending the odd field day does help to make him think and take the blinkers off.

A farm budget is always prepared but this, too, is kept informal. “I work out the lamb and wool prices and keep a good watch on the bank account. We keep costs down and keep any extra expenditure realistic. We don’t spend too much money.”

The Wilsons’ attitude towards debt and tax is that they admit to not liking either but believe they go hand in hand with a farming business. Debt repayment is important to them even though it generates a tax liability. “If you aren’t paying tax you’re not making money,” Hamish says.

Neither Hamish nor Fiona have any desire to go dairying although Hamish said it has been suggested to him on a number of occasions. It would mean having to carry four times the debt if they converted whereas they can stay doing what they really like and pay off the debt they have just as quickly.

He added he feels for some of the other younger farmers who have complicated ownership structures and don’t have the same options. “They shouldn’t be forced to have to go dairying just to make money.” 

Location: Clydevale, Otago

Owners: Hamish and Fiona Wilson

Size: 300 ha (97% effective)

Countour: Rolling landscape

Rainfall: 750-850mm

Stock: 2900 ewes (Wairere x and Coopworth x)

            800 hoggets

            30 R1 and R2 beef-cross

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