Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Soil fertility a priority

The Hunters do soil tests every December with planned winter brassica paddocks tested in the autumn so any fertility issues can be addressed well in advance.

They describe their fertiliser programme as being basic phosphate, sulphur, potassium and lime with the strategic use of nitrogen as needed. Because priority is given to soil fertility, the annual fertiliser spend is one of their largest.

They consider maintaining fertility levels at the industry optimal as important although Chris adds that some paddocks have Olsen-P levels closer to 50 rather than the standard 20-30.

Even though not economic to target, stock do just as well on these higher paddocks and they do noticeably run a few more sheep,” says Chris, who doesn’t believe high phosphate levels are a detriment to stock performance. The Hunters also consider the high fertility levels as an insurance should they need to cut back on fertiliser in a bad year.

Up until two years ago winter brassicas had been predominately swede-based but fodderbeet has been tested in one paddock for the past two years with pleasing results – although not with the stock for which it was originally intended.

“I tried cattle on the fodderbeet for the first year but felt they needed too much baleage, making it too expensive.”

Chris decided to swap the cattle for sheep, supplemented them with silage for seven days, then found they were happy without any supplements after the first week.

“The sheep gut seems to suit the fodderbeet better and they do very well on it.”

As the cattle eat the beet down better than sheep, the cattle are used to clean up the crop, which is grubbed up after the sheep come off. This strategy keeps the cattle well fed and off pasture through the spring.

A small quantity of baleage is made for ease of carting, but otherwise silage is preferred over baleage because it is much more economical and preserves better. This suits the Hunters who always like one pit held as insurance against a winter feed deficit or summer drought. This reserve is an example of how flexibility is built into the operation to cope with both unforseen pressures and opportunities as they arise.

Another example is the beef cattle which are used for conditioning pasture but can also be traded if necessary.

Chris also has what he calls his “Plan B” in that he is always thinking about what he will do if pasture becomes excess or deficit. He also tries to maintain a mindset that allows for change when needed. 


Chris has a background as a rural manager with the National Bank.

With high lamb numbers on the ground, optimal lamb growth is a priority. Winter brassica crops are followed by leafy turnip summer finishing crops. While their lambs grow equally well on pasture, they can finish more lambs a hectare on crop. Chris says the finishing crops are economic only because of the higher lambing percentage and they would not be growing them otherwise.

Finishing crops are sprayed out in autumn and sown into perennial ryegrass and white clover, and while new cultivars will be tested from time to time, the Hunters tend to stick to the tried and true.

The feasibility of converting the property to dairy was studied six years ago but because they enjoy the lifestyle of sheep farming and can make a good living out of it, they are happy to stay as they are at the moment.


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