Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Wise head on young shoulders

Malcolm Wilson is the second of four farming clients of specialised rural accountancy firm Shand Thomson profiled by Country-Wide as a consistent top performer in terms of economic farm surplus. Key facts: 460 ha, 420 effective Rolling landscape with steep gullies Rainfall: 750 – 800ml 3900 ewes (Romdale) 1100 hoggets 50-60 breeding beef cows.

Malcolm Wilson is in an enviable but challenging position and is an inspiration to all young farmers striving to buy the family farm. 

The farm is at Hillend, north of Balclutha in South Otago, and the succession plan is in full swing.

Already a shareholder in the family farming company, which owns the stock and plant, Malcolm and his wife, Kate, are about to take full ownership of the company. They are also buying about 325ha of the land – at present in the family trust – from Malcolm’s parents Don and Mearle. A further 120ha will be leased from Don and Mearle, too.

The succession planning has been in the pipeline for seven years and although Malcolm is already conscious of keeping farm expenditure in check, he admits to having had to get his head around debt. He places a lot of importance on having a really good rural accountant so they can show whether the figures stack up on paper, but he also had to evaluate the debt for himself as being manageable, which it is.

An annual budget is prepared but it isn’t anything too regimented.

“Once the budget is done I don’t worry too much about farm expenditure as long as it’s standard expenditure as I know it’s covered in the budget.”

He does keep a regular check on income, always running figures through his head to make sure things are where they should be.

Malcolm’s key focus is on reducing debt as quickly as possible, even though it means a potential tax liability: “If there’s no tax being paid, then there’s no principal being repaid, in which case everything becomes a struggle.”

Malcolm describes the farm operation as low input with a focus on keeping things simple and being as efficient as possible.

Talk with him and some key traits, recognisable as belonging to those achieving high economic farm surpluses, become apparent. Costs are kept to a minimum, particularly labour, and there is a focus on keeping existing machinery well-maintained rather than buying new. Inherent stockman skills are also obvious. 

Fertiliser kept simple

Malcolm Wilson checks his rams for selection of teasers.

The compromise is the use of terminal rams over a quarter of the ewe flock referred to as the “B” mob, consisting of mostly one-year ewes or any ewes not considered suitable to keep replacements from. Terminal rams consist of Suftex, Poll Dorset and Dorset Down. All ram selections, maternal and terminal, are made on conformation first, then statistics.

Most ewes are shorn mid-winter around early July and although it places increased pressure on the system, including management and feed supplies, Malcolm said that as long as the feed and shelter could be well-managed, the benefits of winter shearing fitted best with his system.

Wool returns 6kg a sheep stock unit at a micron of 38.4 with good colour. Ewe hoggets shorn in October produced a 33.3 micron, which Malcolm said was finer than usual and although the hoggets looked in good condition he was hoping the micron was not a reflection they did it too hard over the winter. The hogget wool sold for $5.26 clean and yielded 75% ($3.95 greasy).

There are few bearing problems and lambing begins with the terminal mob, mainly consisting of older ewes, at the start of September. Two-tooths start mid-month with the rest at the end of September.

“By the time the four-tooths and older ewes are lambing the grass is actively growing.”

Last season’s lamb average was 18.2kg on the hook but Malcolm said this was more a reflection of the dry season and higher prices being paid for stores which meant there was less of a tail end. The long-term average weight sits about 17.5kg although this season he will aim for a slightly higher weight if the growing season allows.

Winter brassica crops are predominately 15ha of first crop swedes and 15ha of second crop chow. Fodderbeet is being considered but Malcolm has concerns about the cost, timing and management needed if it is to be done well. He is planning to sow a small test crop to put cattle on before making a firm decision. 

All ewes spend some time on crop during winter. When on pasture they are rotationally grazed up to four days in each break with baleage: “We have got rid of the electric fencing off pastures.”

Triplets are not separated or treated any differently from twinning ewes.

Malcolm said his ideal lambing percentage would be a consistent 140% – he is achieving 138% survival to sale. Too much more than 140% and the triplet ratio becomes too high and as bad weather over lambing is the biggest issue, a triplet ewe could easily end up with just one or no lambs.

Ewes are set-stocked for lambing and normally checked once a day, sometimes every second day if the weather is good. If it isn’t, ewes are left alone so they stay settled.

Hoggets have not being mated up until now but Malcolm said he planned to start this year. There was a lot of information out there about it now and financially it made good sense, he said. 

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