Ashley and Cathy Peter, Dovedale.

September 2005
Ashley and Cathy Peter have made a number of farm policy changes during the past few years, and have come back to breeding their own ewe replacements and running younger cattle. With farm monitor facilitator Andrew Trolove and the community group, the Peters had moved to buying in one and two-year ewes instead of breeding ewe hoggets and running older, heavier cattle for finishing.

The Peter's now believe they have gathered more information and skills to return to the earlier farm policies, but much more effectively now. Ashley has participated in the Meat and Wool New Zealand Pasture Plan Programme. He records soil moisture and temperature with a data logger, taking recordings every three hours, downloading on to palm top and the on to home computer. All of this information goes into the Farmax programme.

Glengyle Downs wasnt considered a finishing farm until quite recently, mainly because it was hard to keep lambs gaining weight during the summer months, which was probably due to high endophyte pastures. To raise production the Peters needed to lift feed quality and avoid high endophyte pasture.

The pastures on the flats are being improved, with short-rotation and improved ryegrasses and some summer brassicas, such as Winifred rape. Since 2001 35ha of the flats have been re-sown. Some areas of the farm have been high phosphate (up to 35 Olsen P) so the decision was made to reduced fertiliser application in these areas and free up cash to sow new pastures on the flats. However the Peters are still keen on raising the pH from the 5.4-5.5 levels to 5.9-6.0. In recent years all of the farm has had and average of 3 tonnes/ha or more of lime in total. This year the steeper hill country received 3 tonnes/ha of lime flown on.

This year they will be cropping 10-20ha with rape, annual ryegrass and clover, and sowing permanent pasture down on last years cropping area, using Supreme AR1 ryegrass and clovers. Ashley is also cutting pasture at different monitoring sites on the farm to assess pasture growth rates and he is participating in the very interesting Wise use of Nitrogen on Hill Country national trial series.

Until 2000, the Peter's bred their own replacements and then for four years they bought in the one and two-year ewes, paying $60 on average, which can be sold again as annual draft ewes when finished, at much the same money. The Peters have now gone back to keeping ewe lambs, which are mated as hoggets.

Glengyle Downs is carrying (July 1, 2005) 1520 Romney-crossbred ewes and 300 mated ewe hoggets, along with 43 rising 1-year bulls and 305 rising 2-year bulls. On short-term stays are 35 dry dairy cows, 72 R1 dairy heifers and 66 R2 in-calf dairy heifers. Stocking rate is 11.5/ha. Cattle are run semi-intensively on hill country.

In the early 2000s Glengyle Downs carried up to 600 bulls, half of which were finished and sold each year. The aim has been to get the killables to target weights of 550kg before Christmas. Under the monitor farm programme, a switch was made to heavier weaners, which would finish in 18 months and be gone by Christmas. Older and better class of bulls would improve the per day returns on the property.

Bull numbers are lower now and when feed is good, grazing heifers or cows can be bought in. The change from older, heavier bulls back to more weaner bulls is because it is getting increasingly difficult to procure the older bulls. Bulls are run in laneways of 0.9ha to 1.5ha pasture allocations, fenced with two-wire electrics and break-fenced with moveable single tapes and 6-8 poly-standards. At the moment Ashleys dad Terry has 150 bulls stocked on 50ha of flats which he shifts.

The sheep flock is based on Romney, with Texel, Perendale and East Friesian influence. The older ewes are mated to terminal sires and the aim is to get 60% of prime lambs finished off mum and wean at 41kg of lamb per ewe mated. In the past, ewes were compromised by high endophyte, autumn ill thrift, poor pasture quality and some were too light at tupping, said Ashley in the Country-Wide in 2004. Ewes are now being mated at 60-65kg.

Scanning this year was slightly down on last year at average 160%. Last year it was 180%. The ewes are in two groups of 960 (which were mated to Greeline composites and managed 163% scanning) and of 450 (which were mated to Texel and Suffolk terminal sires). The ewe hoggets were mated to Suffolk rams and scanned 91%.

Ashley and Cathy have decided to keep 300 ewe hoggets each year for replacements because they secured good lines of older ewes from which they want to breed. They now use Greeline composites from Marlborough breeder Moston Wadsworth. The genetics in the flock now are better than they could purchase with annual draft ewes each year.

Ashley says high scanning percentages in the ewes bring their own challenges of triplet lamb management. It is a bit like climbing Mt Everest. Its a great view from the top, but you still have to get down safely. They have been separating twin-bearing ewes from the triplet-bearing owns, and giving the latter some preferential feeding. Set-stocked at five or six to the hectare, they are being run on the flats with good pastures among the bulls. Shelter is also provided, along with a mix of lambing dates, so that the crunch period with lots of new lambs is less concentrated.

Last spring some 1500 ewes lambed without incident, except for a couple of bearings and sleepy sickness. Ashley checks for casts but doesnt do a formal lambing beat. This year lambing begins on August 20 (black-face lambs) and on August 27 (Romney-composite).

Glengyle Downs is one of 14 farms around the country participating in this trial. The trial area covers 16.5ha and the control area is 6.5ha. All stock are weighed in an out of the trials areas, and grass cutting is down every month. So far this year the treatment area has received 120kg/ha of Ammophos 31 on June 10 and 120kg/ha on August 16. It will get one or two more dressings of the same before Christmas, which might mean a total of 124kg/ha of nitrogen. The trial area is currently stocked with 10 twin-bearing ewes and 2.5 R1 bulls per hectare at about 230kg/head, for a total of 1200kg of liveweight/ha. Growth during July was up to 30 kg DM/ha/day, which is phenomenal for winter, which has been mild. Soil temperature hasnt been below 5oC this winter and for 15 days in July it was over 10oC.

Target in 2004-05 was $75/su or $850/ha, with farm working expenses 60% of gross income, which would generate an economic farm surplus (adjusted for maintenance fertiliser) of $129,000 or about $340/ha. The target for 2005-06 will be $960/ha gross income. Ashley has an ambition to crack $1000/ha.

Ashley uses Farmax feed planning programme and believes it enables him to anticipate stocking changes and feed conditions a month or two before others farmers react to changing seasonal patterns. For instance, in 2004 Farmax said that keeping bulls to heavier weights and buying in ewes and lambs would be more realistic than buying large numbers of young bulls. In August 2004 he bought ewes with lambs at foot for $40 average all counted, when to wait another month would have added $15 a head more. Ashley now has the confidence to go out and buy extra stock. When we know the soil temperature and moisture levels, even though grass is short we can go out and buy.

Cathy runs the Cash Manager accounts programme. The Peter's are enthusiasts for business planning, with set goals like lifting the farm equity, life insurance to cover the farm debt and regular time away from the farm, perhaps on holiday or self-improvement.