Kelly Northland BFEA 2009 Winner

August 2009

A good environmental approach to an intensive beef grazing system

Peter and Pam Kelly won the 2009 Supreme award, plus the habitat improvement award, in the Balance Northland Farm Environment Awards (BFEA), for the achievements on their west coast farm, which runs cattle-only using intensive grazing systems, which are sometimes thought to be hard on the land and environment.

Peter and Pam bought the west coast farm in the late 1970s when it was a former Lands & Survey farm running sheep and cattle and without any shelter from the persistent westerly wind from the nearby Tasman Sea. Right from day one they began planting trees, but not everything grows in the harsh climate – strong, salt-laden winds. They also dispensed with sheep after 15 years. In the past 12 years intensive beef systems have been extended over most of the farm, with a combination of Technosystem (proprietary) and cellular subdivision using fiberglass standards and electric polywire. The judges for the BFEA commented on the right combination of the intensive farming systems with the property, climate and environment.

The west coast property is 300ha, with 250ha effective and the rest under trees or wetlands. It consists of some flats with medium hills and some steep sidlings which have been planted in trees. The pastures are dominated by kikuyu and 15 to 20ha are regrassed each year, with introduced species lasting three to four years before kikuyu returns.

When Peter attended a Kiwitech/Richmond field day at nearby Aranga in 1999 where Technosystem founder Herry Wier spoke he quickly realized that intensive beef systems would suit his farm and greatly improve profitability.Peter put in a 20ha intensive block, measuring out lanes for himself using a land wheel and an aerial photograph. He weighed young cattle on and off the system and did the same with a set-stocked block alongside. In 10 months the Techno-style intensive block produced 400kg/ha CW and the control 220kg. Peter paid for the Technosystem course at Bulls, where he decided to convert all flatter land to Techno and subdivide the rest with polywires. Since that time about $150,000 has been spent on the infrastructure and equipment.Now the farm has three main land management units, which have their own subdivision, stocking and fertiliser requirements.

They are the flats with Technosystems, the easy hills in cell systems where Techno lanes are not practical and the steeper areas which are divided into 0.4ha paddocks.

In Peter’s own words: the Technosystem doubled everything on the farm – stocking rate, labour and production. It has enabled the employment of a farm worker, Bernie Fanning, who runs the property and shifts stock when the Kellys take a two or three-month holiday in winter.

Shifts are made every two days around rotations of 60 days in winter, shortening to 48 days at the beginning of August and 30 days down to 15 days by the middle of the growing period.

Bull finishing is now the backbone of the stock policy, providing flexibility in buying and selling, which is necessary for a summer-dry farm. The aim is to get the bulk of the finished stock off the property early in the season, before beef prices start falling.

All of the Technosystems are loaded up in April/May with dairy bulls and some steers.

Rising one-year bulls are loaded for winter in mobs of 30 to 50, stocked at about 900kg/ha LW depending on the quality of the land. The plan is to gain 200kg LW per head in a year.

Rising two-year bulls are stocked at higher rates of 1100 to 1300kg/ha LW in mobs of 20 to put on another 200kg LW and finish above 300kg CW.

Modest weight gains in the winter months improve to 2kg-plus/day in the growthy spring.

In mid-winter 2009, cattle carried on the farm were 205 rising two-year bulls, 155 rising one-year bulls, 112 R2 steers, 55 R1 steers, 45 R2 heifers, 32 R1 heifers and 200 empty cows, being a total of 804 cattle.

Trees have been planted by the Kellys for shade and shelter, as well as production of timber. They are keen members of the Farm Forestry Association and have found out by recommendation and experience what works on this property.

Those which will survive include Pohutukawa, banksias, Norfolk pines, flaxes, pinenuts, poplars, willows and flame trees.

Norfolk pines are being planted along fences within the intensive systems for cattle shade. Plantings run east/west for shade and north/south for shelter.

The BFEA judges said they were impressed that the Kellys kept trying different species when some died, as it would have been easy to give up and not plant anything.

“Thirty years of effort have resulted in a desolate block of land converted into one with abundant vegetation and clean water, resulting in very good wildlife populations,” they said. Because power fencing has been extended over all of the property, new trees can be protected from livestock damage. They also need to be released from the kikuyu in the first year or two.

Very steep areas have been fenced and planted in trees to prevent erosion. In total 40ha has been planted, at three different times, with the majority pines, but also some eucalypts, macrocarpa and Leyland Cyprus. Some timber is now being harvested from the first plantings.