Brookfield Hill Country Station

April 2012

AgFirst consultant Rob Hayes talks about the Gisborne/Wairoa Hill Country Farmer of the Year

Brookfield Station has been managed by Hamish Newman since 1992. Over the years he has developed its 456 effective hectares, splitting it into 163 paddocks of around 3ha. The property has a cool climate but enjoys a consistent summer rainfall with the main growing period from December to May. The cattle policy is particularly effective, involving around 600 head purchased mainly as 100kg Friesian bulls and keeping them for two winters. The ewe flock consistently achieves high scanning of around 210%, and docking last year was 161%. Agfirst consultant Rob Hayes says that Hamish is very passionate about farming, as well as being a top operator.

“Agfirst carries out financial benchmarking for about 100 farms in the district each year and he is consistently in the top 10 with very good overall performance with both sheep and cattle. His gross income in 2011 was $1229 per hectare and EFS $703. His net income was close to the district average gross income. Hamish uses Farmax to good advantage and monitors everything, he is very analytical” says Rob.

“He also takes a very active interest in helping other farmers as well. He was chairman of the previous Beef and Lamb monitor farm and district, and is a member of the Matawai farm business group.”

In 2010 Hamish and his wife Paula won the Gisborne/Wairoa Hill Country Farmer of the Year Award.

A Newman family partnership bought Brookfield Station in 1994, and Hamish Newman managed the property on behalf of the partnership until 2002 when he bought out his brothers. He has always been passionate about farming and has used his training and experience to develop the property. The station (456ha effective) is basin shaped with the bottom at 500m above sea level and the sides rising to 800m. It has a rainfall of over 2 metres and has snow perhaps twice a year. The highest third of the property is steep and suitable for sheep, the middle third is rolling but not really tractor country, and the lowest third is suitable for cropping. Consistent rainfall means that it is “summer safe” but the winters are challenging with cool soil temperatures and frosts. Hamish says there is a flush of growth from December to May, but little outside those months.

“We really rely on our good summers with frequent rainfall to set us up, so if it doesn’t rain for a couple of weeks we dry out,” he says.

“By May you would want to be pretty close to your winter numbers because that’s when growth slows right down. July and August are the real crunch months, and with the ewes lambing in late September there is no surplus grass until December, so in a cold spring we just have to keep boosting growth with nitrogen.”

Over the years Hamish has developed a cattle policy that suits the property and is highly profitable. Each year he buys in about 250 young Friesian bulls at 100kg along with a number of 18-month-olds. They are kept for one or two winters, and this year about 370 will go for slaughter. The cattle are grazed in their own area, as Hamish explains:

“For much of the year they are fenced in 36 x 1 ha cells and rotated every two days. In summer we sow swedes and kale and in the winter we put about a third of our big bulls on those crops. The rest are in two mobs with 18 cells each, and are moved every three days,” he says.

“Once the spring flush comes the two mobs grazing in 18 cells each will then go down to 12 each and the bulls from the crop area go into the freed-up cells.”

This year Hamish has substituted some dairy heifers for young bulls, and plans to sell them in calf.

“Having heifers on the property doesn’t make much difference in terms of management, even with bulls you can’t run different mobs next door to each other or bulls and heifers alongside each other,” he says.

“In some ways the heifers are easier once they are in calf because they become a buffer mob. However, heifers are never going to be more than a sideline while the dairy industry is expanding.”

The sheep – Perendale ram over Highlander ewes – generally graze the harder hills. This year the farm will winter 1200 ewes and 1200 hoggets. A terminal Suffolk ram is used over 40% of the ewes and all of the ewe hoggets. Mating begins in early May, lambing in late September and weaning in late January. Scanning percentages are consistently high but docking percentages vary with the weather.

“When we won the Hill Country Farmer of the Year Award in 2010 the actual lambing percentage looked pretty ordinary because we had been hit with storms but since then we’ve actually had fine weather around lambing,” says Hamish.

“The scanning percentage hasn’t changed – it was 211% this year with triplets included – but now we are also getting a good docking figure. Last year docking was 150% and this year we did 161%. That’s pleasing, but the result is really weather dependant.”

In the last couple of years production has stayed about the same but farm gate prices have increased and so profit has gone up. EFS has risen from around $333 per hectare in the 2010 financial year to $703 in 2011. Production this year may end up being higher because a good season so far has also led to slaughter stock being held back to cope with the surplus feed. Store stock are hard to find and prices are high so Hamish has held back from buying more in.

“We normally stock up going through the summer but something in the back of my mind is saying to just hold on and wait. I think the schedule will have a bit of a correction,” he says.

“I have been using Farmax for a couple of years and I have found it to be a good tool for planning, but I’ve put it to one side for the moment because we have so much surplus feed and we have really been reluctant to pay the money being asked. However, autumn will soon roll around and there might be another dry pinch for a month, and at that stage Farmax will give us quite a bit of information about the place.”

With the higher income in recent times Hamish has not been tempted to put on more fertiliser. His policy is to be consistent in applying maintenance plus 10% each year, based on the Agfirst database average for the district. Urea is also used as needed to boost growth, and is usually put on with a bike spreader although if feed is really short in spring, as it was this season, a plane may also be used.

“We put lime on the paddocks that are going to be put into crops and a bit extra elsewhere if we can,” says Hamish. “However, if our income goes up as it did last year we don’t suddenly put a whole lot of lime and Super 10 into the equation. We just make sure that we put on at least maintenance and then harvest that in the good times.”

Currently Hamish does most of the outside work and hires casual labour for fencing and peak periods like lambing, docking and shearing. Paula, who has a degree in business studies, takes care of the finances, accounting and GST. Previously she also helped with farm work but now has two small children in her care.

Ideally, says Hamish, they would like to have a farm that is large enough to support a fulltime employee so that they would have more flexibility as a family.

“The worst thing about an owner/operator business like ours is getting away for a break. You have to have people coming in shifting bulls and feeding the dogs and so on. It takes the fun away from going on holiday,” he says.

“Right now with the good prices we are getting we just want to reduce debt so we can get into a position to expand if we want to. We are always looking for opportunities, but leasing is our only option at present.”

So for now Hamish’s goals are clear: keep the farm humming along, reduce debt, and be around a bit more to spend quality time with the children while they are young.