Quartz Hill Station

July 2012

A deer, sheep and beef station in the foothills of the Southern Alps

Colin and Hilary Guild began farming on Quartz Hill in 1988 and have since developed the property, planting shelter belts, fencing off sensitive areas and putting them into QEII Trust; and building up stock numbers and quality with particular emphasis on deer. In 2001 they bought two small properties on lower country and have very successfully integrated them into the overall business. Their combination of good stock management and environmental sensitivity earned them the Silver Fern Farms Livestock Farm Award in the 2009 Canterbury region Ballance Farm Environment Awards.

Colin Guild’s father bought High Peak Station in 1973. It was 11,000 acres of undeveloped land that ran only 11,000 stock units. Colin and his brother James worked to develop the property until 1988 when they split it and took half each. James and his wife Anna retained the name High Peak while Colin and his wife Hilary named their half Quartz Hill after a pink marble and quartz landmark on the property.

The station is 2910ha. Around 30% of of the property is cultivated rolling paddocks with improved grasses, shelterbelts, is well fenced and has an altitude upwards of 470m. A further 20% is easier hill country at a higher altitude, mostly topdressed and the balance is steep hill country that goes up to 970m, subdivided into large blocks some of which are topdressed.

Spring is the season with most reliable growth and summers can be very dry. Autumn can also be dry but generally there is a period of reasonable growth and winters are cold and wet with occasional snowfalls. The farm gets a lot of wind that dries the ground out in summer and can make it bitterly cold in winter. A clay pan exacerbates the summer dry and winter wet.

In the 70’s and 80’s, Colin and his brother planted many trees for woodlots, shade and shelter and to slow runoff from slopes. Colin continued that process on Quartz Hill. Of the thousands of trees he has planted, the most successful variety has been a Pinus hybrid radiata X attenuata cross that is quick growing and resistant to being blown over. Shelter belts are typically three or four rows.

He also increased subdivision, continued topdressing and focused on improving stock performance making significant changes to stock types and management and to the size and structure of the business. Major changes include:

• Using Angus bulls over the Hereford herd in a move towards Angus, to improve genetics and combat cancer eye, which had been a problem

• Changing from halfbred sheep to Perendales to improve fertility and counter foot problems

• Lambing hoggets

• Calving 2yo heifers

• Improved water supply by creating many dams

• Spraying out tutu on the hills, which was causing many cattle deaths

• In 2001 purchasing two properties on lower country for stock finishing, cropping and providing feed during periods of poor growth on the station.

The two smaller properties are about 9 km away at Windwhistle. The Terrace is 131 ha and the nearby Valehead block is 237 ha. Colin runs them as one unit with their own manager.

The three properties support around 16,000 stock units – 7,100 in sheep, 4,800 in cattle, and 3,000 in deer; plus crops. Colin says he has no particular formula for the mix and changes are driven by profitability. Ewe numbers have almost halved in recent years with both cattle and deer numbers increasing to compensate. The changes, he says, are simply a reflection of poor profitability and the amount of work required for sheep.

Colin and his brother were among the first in the area to diversify into deer farming using helicopter capture of Red deer in the area. Their Rakaia strain has a good temperament and excellent velvet production.

Currently Quartz Hill runs about 800 hinds, half of which are mated to Reds for replacements in the breeding and velveting herds. Velvet is an important part of the deer enterprise with around 1.4 tonnes produced each year. The other half are mated to Wapiti as hybrids for sale on-farm every April to specialist deer finishers. They achieve good weights, says Colin, and this year the tops were 85 kg. Hinds calve on hill country up to 2,500 feet and are mustered by helicopter.

Colin says the deer are very profitable on this class of country and he enjoys working with them. “They have been wonderful for us since we started deer farming right at the beginning with capturing them off our own property. They are a magnificent animal to farm and very intelligent, and we take a lot of pride in them,” he says.

“I really enjoyed getting to understand them and how to farm them. It is very challenging to capture them but worthwhile because they fit the growth curve here so well. They are well adapted to the climate and very safe in snowstorms because they have long legs and know to get to a safe place where they survive as long as they have a bit of shelter and some feed.”

Colin is currently wintering about 4,200 Perendale ewes on the Station. The 2500 hoggets are walked down to the lower farms for the winter. Some are used for breeding and others for trading – the Sufftex ram is used as a terminal sire. Lambing is typically around 130% tailed, which is “pretty good” because the flock lambs unshepherded on the high hill country.

The property carries Angus and Angus cross cattle. They were all originally Hereford but Colin has used Angus bulls so some have got white faces and some are pure black. The change to Angus genetics was partly because he felt they were superior, partly to avoid cancer eye which had been a problem with Herefords, and partly because the Angus market in Canterbury had been underpinned very strongly by Five-Star Beef.

“We now calve two-year-old heifers as well, so there are close to 450 females calving. The heifers are mated with Angus bulls and the others are mated to Angus or Charolais as a terminal sire. I really like the Charolais cross, they grow well and they are easily identified, show hybrid vigour and find a ready sale,” says Colin.

“The heifers and steers are born at Quartz Hill and we take them down to the lower properties as weaners. They stay there to 18 months, then the heifers that we retain for breeding go back to Quartz Hill and the others are sold.”

Managing the stock between high and lower country on the station and the Windwhistle properties is a matter of making the best use of available feed. Ewes are brought down from the high country to be flushed on the lower paddocks. Cows are calved in small numbers on topdressed hill country and brought down onto better feed with calves at foot to improve condition prior to mating and to control grass on the lower paddocks in November.

The Windwhistle farms are used to winter and finish young cattle and sheep. Quartz Hill soil is glacial moraine with big boulders and a clay pan, making it extremely wet in winter and very dry in summer. The other farms are at a lower altitude (350m) with a shingle base and so are better drained, not as wet, not as much snow and grow substantially more grass in the summer.

Supplementary feed on Quartz Hill can include kale, swedes and fodder beet, autumn saved pasture, baleage and grain. The lower paddocks are sown in high performance grasses that might last only three years before grass grubs reduce production substantially and so winter feed crops are sown. This year there are paddocks of kale that will go to the stags after the roar and the young deer. They will also get grain and sometimes whole-crop silage like oats or barley. A lot of baleage is made on the property, and the hinds get maintenance rations of that and meadow hay.

On the Windwhistle farms, cereal wheat is grown for sale as feed wheat as part of the rotation between the winter feed crops. Yield is substantial and so provides another income stream for the enterprise.

Colin’s prime focus is the production of high quality stock while caring for the land.

“At the end of the day I’m a livestock farmer and I pride myself on the livestock that we produce be it sheep, cattle or deer, so we concentrate on that and get paid for it. But in so doing I am mindful of the property,” he says.

“We have an all-weather road right through the middle of it, we have planted a lot of trees, and it is an attractive landscape. We have also tried to preserve areas of tussock and do environmentally sensitive things like plant a lot of trees, get water flowing in the right direction, put in dams for stock water, and try to control the run-off by leaving a bit of tussock here and there in the paddocks to slow it down.”

“So that is it in a nutshell. I enjoy just having a property where everything works and I take pride in that.”