Sunday, July 3, 2022

Special slice of paradise

Buying a farm in a new area can be a challenge, but the Hislop family from Karamea have found a way to get to know the locals. As Darren and Jennifer Hislop told Anne Hardie, showing cattle at local shows has been something all the family can be involved in, as well as a great introduction to the community.

Darren and Jennifer Hislop found their Karamea farm on Trade Me five years ago and are relishing a community that still enjoys sprucing cattle up for the local show, on-farm calf competitions and a calf-studded pet day.

Not a bad feat for a region that battles bovine Tb, forcing many competitors to carry out vigorous testing of animals to get them to a show. Cattle from Tb-infected herds have a separate area at the show and wear Tb identification tags, but pride in their stock prompts farmers to make the extra effort to show their animals.

"Everyone still makes the effort," said Jennifer, who had never shown a cow before they took up the reins of their farm near Karamea.

"Darren said ‘Where's Buller?’."

They were sharemilking at the time, with one lifestyle block purchased alongside it. They were considering buying another to add to their acreage, when they thought it worthwhile searching online for a dairy farm less than $2 million.

A 71ha farm, with 53 effective, popped up on screen near Karamea in Buller District on the South Island's west coast, so they headed to the well-timed Karamea show to look around. It's a dairy show, with sideshows, trade exhibits and vintage tractors making it pretty much like the typical A and P shows around the country and it had huge community appeal to Darren and Jennifer.

They were sold and took over the 142-cow Jersey herd on the farm in a picturesque valley. Darren is now president of the Karamea Jersey Breeders Show, while Jennifer has the treasurer/secretary job.  

Though short on experience showing cattle, Jennifer was the third generation in a family passionate about competing in horse events, which is why she is also head steward of the Buller A and P Show's equestrian section and why there's a pony for each of their three daughters. Added to that is the role of PTA president at the Karamea Area School.

"If I sat on my bum and didn't do things I would feel guilty,” she said. “And the kids get opportunities and it's a great way of meeting new people in a district."

Three daughters, Samantha, Annalese and Stephanie, get their fair share of ribbons with their cows and calves at the Karamea show in the middle of November each year and get another chance at winning ribbons in the on-farm heifer calf competition, where two judges from outside the region visit about 20 herds in the area over two days to pick the best bunch of yearlings and calves.

"A lot of people can't be bothered to halter-train an animal to lead but are still proud of their stock," Jennifer said. "If you win the group, there's more prestige than winning with just one animal."

So far they have been well placed with their young stock every year and have won three times.

The kids get a third chance to show their calves at the school's pet day, an annual event at the 100-pupil school that attracts everything from whitebait to calves, with kunekune pigs, turtles and lambs among the menagerie.

"The kids even have vege gardens that a teacher drives around and judges for the pet day," Jennifer said. "It's like turning back the clock here."

Darren said it was what Morrinsville was like when he was a child.

They sharemilked in Waikato for 13 years on Jennifer's parents’ dairy farm, following an engineering background for Darren. Though they concede they won't get rich on their small Karamea farm, the lifestyle and community spirit have made it richly rewarding.

"When we shifted here the community was here within hours with cakes and at the end of the season there's groups of farmers that get together," Jennifer said.

Their farm sits in a valley inland from Little Wanganui, fringed by the bush of Kahurangi National Park on all sides. It's a shingle, no-exit road that takes keen trampers to the start of the Wangapeka Track, whey they can walk over the ranges to the Nelson side. To Darren and Jennifer it's a slice of paradise, providing them with the chance to own their own farm and, by watching their pennies, make a living from dairy farming. 

Tight rein

In their best season so far at Karamea the herd produced 46,400kg milksolids (MS) from 123 cows, so keeping a tight rein on costs is paramount and they cut back wherever possible. These days they never buy calf meal and they've seen no negative effect on the calves' growth.

"We were feeding five tonnes of meal to our calves in the Waikato and couldn't see any difference to just milk," Darren said. "So we kept going with just milk down here through to weaning."

Calves are kept in groups of 10 in the shed for a fortnight and fed colostrum initially, followed by five litres of milk/day from the vat. From two weeks they are put out on to grass, with the option of returning to the shed in poor weather, and weaned at 10 weeks at about 70kg.

"They still win at competitions," he said. "We keep everything else up with them including copper, selenium, B12 and drenching."
Two years ago their farm costs were $2.66/kg MS, though the introduction of palm kernel for six weeks over winter to put weight on the cows, plus a poorer season, would have lifted costs a bit, Darren said.

The palm kernel worked well though, with the herd split into two groups on the farm and calving in good condition at the start date of August 12. It was also a cheaper option to sending the cows off the farm in an area where grazing is in short supply and expensive.

Their season finishes about mid-May because of the growth rate and a goal is to have an average cover of 2200kg drymatter (DM)/ha.
After playing around with the stocking rate, they have settled on 2.75 cows/ha and it has been working well.

During their first two seasons on the farm they poured much-needed nitrogen (N) on the paddocks to boost grass growth but are now trying to cut back on its use. They have opted instead for a West Coast brew called Ureammopt, which puts potash and sulphur back into the soil to compensate for leaching in the high-rainfall climate. It's a case of a little and often.

About 2.5m of rain is poured on to their valley each year, but though the soil gets wet quickly they are fortunate it also drains quickly, with some of the farm humped and hollowed to cope with the volume of water. Autumn proves the best time to cut baleage to feed to the cows through winter and they also buy about three unit loads of hay and straw for wintering the cows on the farm.

Young stock has been grazing on about 16ha of poorer, rush-covered pasture around its edges, against Kahurangi National Park.

Despite the quality of the pasture the youngsters grow out well, though in future will graze on a 10ha runoff up the road that was bought in September.

Another advantage of their small farm is family involvement, with the three girls helping out with the calves and now relief milking when needed.

"On a small farm the kids get involved more," Darren said. "When Samantha wanted to go on the Spirit of Adventure, we said we'll pay half and you pay half by relief milking for us."

The kids can identify many of the cows in the herd, especially because they have shown quite a number. The cows have been quiet-natured since the Hislops took over the herd five years ago.

Since then they have used nominated bulls from World Wide Sires to produce the type of Jersey they want for their bush-fringed farm. And the type that ticks all the boxes in the show ring.   

Kahurangi National Park frames the farm on the valley floor.

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