Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The cross is key at Mt Ross

Moving to a larger, extensive dryland property has provided the perfect proving ground for the Leslie family’s Charolais-Red Devon cattle. The crossbreeding of Red Devon and Charolais produces hardy, fast growing progeny that do well at Mt Ross, a 1628ha extensive and at times extreme dryland farm near Middlemarch. The crossbreeding is a no brainer for the Leslie family, with Colleen a breeder of broad and beefy Charolais and son Sean a breeder of mid-sized, hardy Red Devon. They crossbred the two on a small scale at North Otago and Okaramio where they used to farm and since moving to StrathTaieri five years ago have ramped up the breeding programme.

The Leslie family, from left, Sean with daughter Ali, 2, Melinda, Jane, Colleen and Leon are in their sixth year at Mt Ross.

Colleen, Leon and daughter Jane along with Sean and Melinda made the move to Mt Ross in March 2008. Colleen and Leon had farmed for six years 826ha of steep country at Five Forks, North Otago. Keen to escape the steep country they looked for easier and extensive terrain in the Middlemarch area where Sean was already working in a contracting business.

They brought with them 120 cattle including the stud Charolais and Red Devon, 500 Polwarth ewes, 1800 Romney ewes and youngstock. Over the last two years they’ve run 3900 stock units and this year have gained another 200–300 stock units, mostly from bought-in cattle.

“We’ll probably increase cattle numbers as we get more familiar with the property. For the last two years we’ve been under stocked … increasing cattle numbers and holding ewe numbers should keep the balance right,” Leon says.

They run a mob of 700 Merino and another of 1800 Romney ewes. The Merinos are run on the harder country and lambing ranges at 100–111%. Lambs are weaned late, usually the end of February, shorn in spring then sold under the Silere contract.

They aim to finish all progeny but will struggle this year because of the dry. Last year Romney lambs averaged 20kg CW and in 2011 21kgCW.

Development of Mt Ross is ongoing and over the five years they have selectively replaced 128ha of run-out pasture and native land and subdivided a 60ha block. Development is mostly by direct drilling with cultivation used where necessary to level paddocks. The process is slow and hard on machinery due to the silica content of the soil. There are also the towering schist rocks and stacks,which cover about a third of the property, to work around.

It’s a costly exercise, Leon says, a good example being the driveway block which has yielded 32ha of developed land (29ha lucerne and 4ha grass) from 60ha at a cost of $50,000-$60,000, fencing inclusive.

Each year they aim to establish 90ha of new grass or kale, rape or barley and greenfeed oats.

Kale has become a mainstay winter finishing crop because of its higher protein content than turnips and versatility for all stock classes.

Last year they mated the hoggets on Kale and achieved 91% lambing, a drastic improvement from the previous year’s 70% result.

Lucerne is another favoured feed source. They have 79ha of pure lucerne but would like to increase the area to 200ha for lamb finishing and hay.

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