Sustainable Land Use at Ewanrigg

April 2014

Winners of the 2013 Supreme Award in the Horizons Region Ballance Farm Awards

Waituna West couple Curwen and Marija Hare won the 2013 Supreme Award in the Horizons Ballance Farm Environment awards for their “impressively balanced approach” to their farm management including careful water management and adaptation of outside knowledge. 

Curwen and Marija have been on Ewanrigg since 1982. There used to be another family farm down the road, and they farmed both together for a long time, but sold that farm in 2007.  Since 2008 they have been a single farming entity, and set about doing all the things they hadn’t been able to do earlier.

As well as winning the supreme award they also took away the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Farm Award and the WaterForce Integrated Management Award. 

At Ewanrigg, Curwen and Marija Hare farm 275ha, of which 230ha are effective. They winter 1050 ewes, 350 hoggets and 250 dairy heifer grazers on contour ranging from flat to moderately steep.

Ballance Farm Environment Award judges praised the Hares’ management of the farm given its natural limitations which include steep contour and varied soil types, including some wet soils, wind exposure and limited natural water.

They also praised the couple’s “commitment to detail” and their use of expert knowledge to steer their business through a period of significant debt loading.

They also noted the adoption of a Horizons Regional Council Sustainable Land Use Initiative plan (SLUI) which helped the couple embrace the sustainable farming concept and has had a major effect on how they run the farm.

“This is an excellent example of adapting outside knowledge to maximize production and manage within some considerable natural limitations, without having a detrimental effect on the environment.”

The farm used to have big paddocks of 16-20ha when they took it over, but they didn’t suit the geography of the farm.

They had a SLUI plan done by the Horizons Council, even though they are outside the zoning because their country isn’t steep.   At the time the Hares were monitor farmers, Horizons asked Beef + Lamb to put their monitor farmers onto the SLUI system. “They wanted people to see it wasn’t the big stick waving thing everyone thought it was.”

A major part of the SLUI plan was a detailed soil map of the farm. The Hares have 16 different soil types on the farm, but only three or four are major types.

So they’ve done a great deal of subdivision, and used the SLUI plan for the basis for this work, fencing closely to the soil types.

While natural water isn’t abundant, the judges said the water that is available is very well managed in terms of quantity and quality.

There aren’t a lot of natural springs on the farm, so Curwen and Marija rely on dam water.

Stock water is supplied by a two-dam system, with the top dam acting primarily as a silt trap. About 75% of water is gravity fed to troughs, a system which works two-thirds of the year.

When the water level is too low for gravity, they use a solar pump system to pump water from the dams to a storage/header tank before distribution to the troughs.

All seeps (swampy gullies) have been fenced, and judges praised the excellent riparian management and plantings on the farm.

They’ve also fenced 7km of steep gorge country, and now 20% of the farm is fenced and retired. This will increase to 25% once the gullies are all fenced.

“We realized it was a good idea to fence out the wet gullies, and we are space planting them with poplars.”

One side of the gullies has a permanent multiple wire sheep and cattle fence, while the other side has a two wire fence to exclude cattle from the wet areas.

The gullies are still a work in progress, with fencing a third of the way through.

And they are also still planting the gullies with poplars. Once the gullies are all fenced Curwen and Marija plan to go back through and interplant with native species.

“Already we have seen a huge change in these waterways – the ones we have fenced run clear. Sheep now can walk through and only get their feet wet. When cattle could access the streams they would be walking up to their bellies in the soft ground. Goodness knows how many sheep we lost in them.”

The Hares have also fenced off a large block of three steep scrub covered gullies which are highly erodible and are protecting them permanently with the QEII National Trust. The retirement of this 35ha paddock was part of the SLUI plan.  They had previously covenanted a block of bush on the other farm with the Trust, and say “it wasn’t a big scary thing”.

“We are very exposed here and part of getting all the riparian fencing in the right place was planting trees including getting shelter in as well. It is all a means to an end. These are all things we weren’t able to do earlier when we had a big debt.”

Ewanrigg has a high level of stock production. Grazing management is carefully planned and high-producing mixed pastures including chicory and plantain are grown to boost the weight of lambs and dairy grazers.

Curwen says their sheep flock is a bit unusual, as it is a crossbred flock. It is now all based on terminal sires.

When he started farming in partnership with his father the flock was purebred Romneys which in the 1980’s was lambing at 120% plus.

For a long time they hovered at that level of lamb performance, but realized they weren’t improving. They looked at putting a halfbred East Friesian across the Romneys to improve milking ability, and that was good for a couple of years.

As they kept crossing East Freisian they found the ewes were too soft for their country so they went to a maternal Kelso composite sire, and scanning results were over the 200% level. But they didn’t want to carry out increasing past that level; instead they wanted to improve survivability of the lambs.  Docking is around 150% now.

“It’s very exposed on this lowland hill country, and we can get hit quite hard by storms. So we went from the Kelso composite to the Kelso Ranger, a terminal sire.”

This produces a lamb with a very good carcass composition, and the lambs all go to processor Taylor Preston on a supply agreement.  “We are killing them at 20kg carcass averages.”

The flock is now quite small at 1000 ewes and 340 hoggets which are also lambed. This year they docked 1730 lambs, which works out at a flock equivalent lambing of 173%.

The lambs are weaned at 90-95 days so it is usually done before Christmas.

The dairy heifers are on a May to May contract with Vet Care Grazing, and come on at around 200 to 230kg and put on about 260kg over the year. They are weighed every two months and sent home in calf. This contract has been running for four or five years.

The Hares commented, “We were very surprised to win the supreme award. We only entered because a couple of people had been badgering us for a couple of years.  We decided to enter to keep them quiet and we thought we were only making up the numbers.

One of the main things about farming these days is to make sure it is sustainable. If what you are doing on the farm cannot carry on for 100 years then you are doing something wrong. It is all about sustainability.

Most farmers want to leave the land better than when they took it over and make it a nicer place to live in.”