Phil and Louise Alexander, Puketapu Station, Napier,

May 2005
Phil and his brother Geoff have shares of 420ha each in Puketapu Station, which includes sheep and cattle, process cropping and apple growing. The farming operations were divided between the brothers three years ago. They still work together at peak times and share machinery.

Phils farm is the later country without apple orchard, consisting of 60ha of flat land and the rest hill. The base stocking is 1200 older ewes and 120 older cows, plus heifer replacements, finishing heifers and finishing lambs. He also sowed 40ha of sweetcorn last summer and carries out considerable pasture renewal to regrass the flat country for intensive stocking over winter and spring.

Phil has installed a new 14-inch PTO pump beside a flood gate into the stream, which collects water from two intersection drains across the 60ha flats. These used to flood regularly, with loss of pasture, and about 40ha is now protected by new stop banks.

However, when the river/stream is high the rate of percolation through the banks gives rise to the need for the drains and pumping station, which has cost around $18,000. The flat land has been recontoured and refenced at similar cost again.

The area is used for intensive stocking and heifer finishing during winter and spring. Up to 300 rising 2 year old heifers are loaded up on new Moata ryegrass in a cell system with 1 hectare paddocks. About 40 will be home-bred cull heifers (not required for breeding) and the rest bought at Stortford Lodge saleyards. The aim is to take them from average 400kg LW to 500kg LW or more, and the stocking rate initially is around five heifers per hectare. Phil uses nitrogen during winter (50units N/ha) to boost grass growth. The soils are heavy clays which will cope with 50-75mm rainfalls in winter, but stock may have to be moved off and fed supplements to avoid pugging. Phil is also considering moving to lighter heifers (R1yo) to reduce the pugging pressure.

When the heifers are finished and off the flat land, Phil sprays out the pasture, works up the land and sows 40 hectares of sweet corn in two lots, mid-November and mid-December. In 2004-05, the first crop suffered from a cool start to the season that cut short development of the secondary cobs. The second crop matured well and would have yielded 20tonne/ha but was recently by-passed by McCains, the contracting processor, because they have enough, or too much has come right at the one time. Phil will get about 2/3rds of his expected return, to cover seed and cultivation.

The cropped land is sown with grass for the coming winter, and Phil does all his own tractor work, with a 95hp John Deere and all the gear. He thinks the process crop option is a good one for the heavier, more fertile land, which fits in well with his winter/spring cattle finishing option.

Phil uses five-year sheep purchased in each year, rather than breeding his own replacements. He wants 1150-1200 ewes to be mated each year, and achieves around 1250 lambs to be finished and marketed. Mating begins on February 1 and results in early lambing from the first week in July onwards. Phil therefore has market-ready lambs in the third week of October (weaning) and most lambs have been finished by the end of December. This suits the dry HB summers well. The downside of using aged ewes is their higher death rates and lower lambing percentages.

Phil has a Charolais-cross breeding cow herd and he also puts an Angus bull over first-year heifers which reach the target mating weight of 320kg LW. He keeps all progeny and finishes all bull calves to 300kg CW target, plus the heifers which are not required as herd replacements.