A Flexible Sheep Beef and Deer Operation

September 2014

A Global Master Class was a catalyst for structuring a sheep, beef and deer business

High performing Te Kuiti farmer William Oliver has set up his farm business structure with a very clear focus that was inspired after attending a Global Farmers Master Class.

William and his wife Karen have been farming together since 2000. The farm was bought originally in1994 by William’s family. Twelve months ago the couple bought Waerenga as well as the nearby Three Rivers property.

When William and Karen took over the 730ha effective farm in 1995 it was wintering 6500 stock units, with P levels ranging from four to 20. Scrub was regenerating in some areas and the infrastructure was “below average”. Today, the rolling to medium hill contour property winters an average of 9500 stock units. Subdivision has increased the number of paddocks to 140 and two-thirds of the farm is on reticulated water.

William says the significant improvements achieved in the farm’s carrying capacity, soil fertility and infrastructure was part of a planned programme. “We set personal, physical and financial goals.” William says the key to the farms’ stock policy was to always remain flexible. “This gives us the ability to investigate and take advantage of opportunities, never getting into the position of being at the market’s mercy.”

The number of sheep, deer and beef cattle farmed can vary from year to year, depending on feed and market conditions.

The lambing date is set according to feed conditions and the winter stocking rate. Some winter lambs will also be bought, but again this number can vary considerably “depending on climate and opportunity”. And trade lambs provide flexibility.

Cattle numbers also vary from year to year. William said the farm was well suited to cattle production and the cattle policy was kept flexible “to take advantage of the markets”.

The Olivers also try to maintain flexibility with the deer policy. He says running three types of stock (sheep, beef and deer) created synergy because these stock types complement each other.

Each farm has a manager. Warenga has just taken on Sam Rogers, who is in the process of getting up to speed with the property.

William and Karen have overall control but they have taken the unusual step of appointing an independent director Rob Macnab, to help them run their business. William says Rob asks the difficult questions that he and Karen might otherwise not ask of themselves. He also says an independent director creates more balance in business relationships so the decision making process isn’t compromised.

Rob has introduced an emphasis on aspects of the business that self-governing farmers might normally put aside, for example Health and Safety.

William has defined a three pronged business strategy to achieve high goals for his farm business. He says they want to improve returns concentrating on adding value to what leaves the farm, looking for opportunities with new technology and improving financial control. 

They have recently signed a spring Venison contract, where they will supply deer at specific weights and dates. They have changed their practice by providing better feed, new grasses, buying high BW genetic stags and using excellent animal husbandry and feeding practices. 

Another strategy is to establish new forages such as plantain, which has had a huge effect on the farm’s ability to provide lambs earlier, especially with lambs at foot. Waerenga was invited to become involved in presentations to farmers to showcase the outcomes of using this type of forage.

The property has extended its maize growing area with a short maturity maize cultivar, so the dairy farmer gets their silage earlier when they need or want it. Additionally there is an opportunity to establish earlier winter grasses for fattening deer, bulls, and lambs for early spring shoulder supply. 

The Olivers are aiming to capture more value from the consumer with what is essentially a commodity. They believe consumers will pay a premium for a brand that has integrity and values that align with the consumer’s own values. It is their belief that sustainable environmental practices and looking after the natural environment is important to the consumer that is prepared to pay more. And William is very focused on producing something the consumer actually wants.

William was part of a select group of New Zealand farmers and agribusiness operators who recently attended the world’s first Global Farmers Master Class, held in the Netherlands. The weeklong education programme, staged by Rabobank, brought together 50 leading farmers from 16 key food and agricultural producing countries around the world. The programme was attended by producers from countries as diverse as the United States, Ireland, Brazil, Rwanda, Zambia, Chile, Germany, Paraguay and Australia.

William said it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to share ideas with and learn from farmers from all over the world. “I met some amazing people – the energy and passion of the participants was incredible and hearing about the way they run their farms and operations was fascinating,”

The Master Class focused on the challenges facing the world’s farmers to sustainably grow in order to meet global food production demands.  The class was modelled on Rabobank’s Executive Development Programme that is run for leading-edge farmers in New Zealand and Australia. It included sessions on innovation in agriculture, chain management, sustainability and succession. Sessions were delivered by leading global researchers, senior business executives and industry experts.

William says there is an obvious growing demand for food but at the same time farmers need to send the message to the end consumer that they are working on solutions to produce more food safely and sustainably.