July 2007
The Jacksons were farmers in southern Wairarapa on a smaller property until 2000 when they purchased the Nelson property which has now become Birchwood Terraces. It became the Nelson region monitor farm in February 2006, after the three-year term of Ashley and Kathy Peter (Rural Delivery 2005).

The community group for the monitor farm is 50-60 district farmers and rural representatives, facilitated by Andrew Trolove, AgAdvice, Blenheim.

Birchwood Terraces is a conventional breeding and finishing farm for sheep and cattle on 325ha effective, with 210ha of downs the rest hill country. The whole property is 700ha, with the non-farming balance in forestry (50ha) and native timber (325ha). The house is at 370m asl and the property rises to 500m, which is high enough to get two or three snowfalls each year.

At the end of 2005, soil tests disclosed an average pH of 5.4 and phosphate level of 24. The property is predominantly south-westerly facing and receives 1300ml rainfall annually.

The flock of 1950 ewes is dual-purpose Romney targeted at prime lamb production and the 100 Angus cow herd is used to breed own replacements and grow 18-month steers for processing or Five Star feedlot. Bulls are purchased from Enterprise Cattle Co. of Nelson. Birchwood Terraces is carrying 3600 stock units, at 11/ha effective.

When the MF programme began, the Jacksons intended to mate ewe hoggets and feed ewes to potential of 150% lambing with lamb growth rates pre-weaning of 280g/day.

Among the initial goals for the MF programme, set in March 2006, were 65kg ewe with 150% lambing, 50% of saleable lambs away by December 20 and 95% over 15kg CW during the season. Freeman intended to keep a closer eye on lamb losses and ewe mortality, identify lamb growth rates pre- and post-weaning and investigate further ewe hogget mating.

He is also monitoring cow efficiency and weaner growth rates, and the mating date for rising one-year heifers was to be moved to coincide with the older cows.

On the farm management front, the pasture growth curve should be established by measurement, the cropping need is to be reviewed and a three-year pasture renewal programme written, costing for a central laneway, and modification of the yards to allow one-man drenching and load-outs. At present some casual labour used, one day a week and other days on demand.

The Jacksons were to develop a fertiliser plan for the farm, based on the increased carrying capacity and pasture renovation plan. They had good intentions of using no more than 40kg/ha of nitrogen annually, but Overseer nutrient management programme will add to the decision process.

In the 2004 lambing 128% was achieved and a sheep income of $65/sheep stock unit (ssu). Wool income was $16/ssu, for a total sheep income of $81/ssu.

Calving was 92% and cattle income $63/csu.

Farm working expenditure was slightly over half of farm revenue in the 2004-05 financial year.

Although smaller than the Nelson province average farm effective area and stock units (4000), Birchwood Terraces is already more closely stocked, at 11su/ha compared with 9.5.

When the MF programme began, revenue at Birchwood Terraces was taking a hit from lower lamb prices in the 2005-06 season compared with the two previous seasons.

Only 14% were sold at weaning (December 1), with 12 subsequent drafts through to April 11 (up to 88% of sale lambs), and the remaining 12% sold as stores in April.

A total of just under 1800 lambs were marketed, for an average price of $50, or $3.02/kg (including stores).

Meat company prices achieved began the season at $4/kg and ended under $3/kg.

About 30,000kg of carcase weight was produced at an average of 16.76kg/lamb.

In the previous growthy year (2004-05) the average CW was 18.92kg, an exceptional result.

The lambing was 135% in 2005 and 128% in 2006. Freeman got 170 blackface lambs away (9% of total) before Christmas 2006 and there were more ready if space had been available. Much the same number went in early January, whiteface this time.

Unfortunately the lamb schedule had begun falling quickly by that time, in a repeat of the year before. The first three drafts (before Christmas) achieved $4/kg or slightly more. The January drafts were down to $3.50/kg.

Naturally thoughts turned to trying to offset the effects of falling lamb schedules on farm cashflow. Meat companies had warned against going to heavier carcase weights, so the Jackson would stick to target weights but try to get all lambs away prime before the first week of March 2007. This will give more options with more feed going into winter.

Calving results have been good the past two seasons at 95-98%.

The community committee had also suggested dropping cow numbers, growing ewe hoggets better with a view to mating them and using the sale cow money to build a central laneway.

In December the preferred option was to reduce cow numbers, mate the ewe hoggets to 80% scanning, sell steer calves and finish all lambs to 17kg CW.

However, to avoid buying in stock, steers could be finished, the cow numbers stay the same, hold on to more ewe hoggets and sell those which do not get in lamb in the winter.

On February 26, Freeman reported to a monitor farm day that livestock weights were ahead of the previous year, with two-tooths at 58kg before shearing, four-tooths at 65kg and older ewes at 71kg.

A consensus of community farmers at the February meeting was still in favour of reducing cow numbers to around 60 and mating the ewe hoggets. The feed demand for cattle vs sheep would then fall from 29% to 19% over the whole year. The demand would also fit the pasture supply curve better.

In April the target mating weight of 40kg for 300 ewe hoggets was reached, by using crop. In fact the average on April 20 was 45kg. If they are to be mated, it should be at the end of April for a late September lambing. The black face rams went out to older ewes on April 2 and the Romney rams followed on April 12.

However Freeman and Hazel intended to have a discussion with Andrew Trolove and the community group committee about the plan to reduce cow numbers and mate the ewe hoggets. Freeman said it had been a dry autumn and grass was short. There was not much time left to get warm rain. Soil temperatures are down to 10-12 degrees and pasture growth from now on will be slow. The growing season is shorter at the Birchwood Terraces altitude.

Pregnancy tests have been done on 130 cows plus replacements and there are 10 empties. Another 10 will be culled because of age, so Birchwood Terraces will over-winter 110 in-calf cows. There are three Angus bulls and one Hereford.

In summary, the Jacksons feel this is an awkward time to be implementing large changes, at the end of two seasons of low lamb returns and when feed is short going into winter. Birchwood Terraces requires some cautious management, and the Jacksons are still new to Nelson region.

When the Jacksons were in southern Wairarapa they sometimes sent lambs for slaughter at Alliance Nelson. Now they farm one hour from that plant and they consign lambs back across Cook Strait to Taylor Preston Wellington. Freeman admits this is madness for the sake of everyone in the industry, especially the farmers-suppliers, who eventually pay for the unnecessary transport. But procurement battles continue and the meat industry is a tangled mess, which has been painfully obvious in falling lamb prices this year and last year.