Friday, July 1, 2022

Smart thinking

It’s a highly profitable Romney sheep operation but the grass almost stole the show at the judging of the New Zealand Ewe Hogget Competition. The eyes of the North Island judges bulged at the sight of the lush green autumn pasture when they arrived to judge the ewe hoggets of Adrian and Anne Lawson at Waituna in Southland. “Do you mind if I roll in it”, prominent Central Hawke’s Bay farmer and businessman Andy Train couldn’t resist asking, saying it had been a long time since he had seen grass like it. As it turns out, even though the dry summer in Southland had nothing on the drought in the North Island, Adrian said his pasture covers were only half of what they should be going into winter and he was concerned. This concern echoes that felt by many farmers in the region.

The Lawsons are proud of being sheep farmers and don’t hide it.

The Lawsons’ approach to animal health is to keep it simple.

Lambs normally receive their first drench at weaning but this season it was given a fortnight earlier because nematodirus eggs showed up unexpectedly in FEC testing. Lambs were drenched again after New Year, then every four to six weeks.

Ewes are drenched with a mineral formulation pre-tup. A Cydectin injection is given pre-lamb, which Adrian admits is probably more as a means of insurance.

“I’m not game to go without it as what we are doing is working. Perhaps if the spring feed (covers) are large we might go without it.”

Ewe lamb replacements get their first 5-in-1 clostridial vaccine in January with a booster six weeks later. All ewes received their annual pre-lamb booster. Replacements are also vaccinated against toxoplasmosis and campylobacter.

A lambing shepherd is employed for up to a fortnight over the busiest lambing period because the Lawsons operate a reasonably intensive system. 

Growing the business 

Adrian and Anne enjoy the challenges of sheep but the strength in dairying around them has meant little likelihood of being able to buy up neighbouring land to enlarge their own farm.

Unconverted land prices sit around $30,000 a hectare but have been up to as much as $39,000 a hectare.

Neither have a desire to convert to dairying. Four years ago, when they decided they wanted to grow their business portfolio, they knew that if they wanted to increase their sheep operation it would mean selling up and buying a bigger place outside the prime dairying area.

This would mean a new set of challenges including school issues and longer travelling times, as well as having to work harder when both admit to being at a stage in their lives where they aren’t that keen to take on more physical work.

So instead of working harder they identified a smarter option and with six other equity partners, they bought a dairy farm close by at Dacre three years ago, milking 520 cows. The decision allows them to keep doing what they enjoy on the farm they both love but also provides business growth for them and their family. Both keenly admit to enjoying the dairying venture. 

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