Temataa Intensive Beef

August 2016

An intensive beef system is good for production and the environment on this property

Temataa Station, owned and operated by Dennis and Rachelle O’Callaghan, was the 2016 supreme winner for Northland in the Ballance Farm Environment Awards. It is a large cattle and sheep property in the coastal hills of Doubtless Bay, one of the country’s top beach resorts. The O’Callaghans have developed the environmental and sustainable aspects of farming Temataa, adopting intensive beef systems to minimise soil profile damage and sedimentary run-off and improve water quality as it makes its way to the sea.

Dennis and Rachelle bought the farm off Rachelle’s father, Winston Matthews, in 2000, purchasing 315ha and leasing 285ha. Three years ago they were able to purchase the second half and now own the full 610ha, of which 476ha has been placed into intensive beef systems (IBS). These are called cellular systems or laneway systems (Temataa has both), in which small mobs of cattle graze small areas and are moved on to fresh pasture every second day to protect the root structure of grass and allow for rapid regrowth from grazing.

IBS is a NZ-developed farm management approach, popularised by Harry Wier of Bulls, and his laneway systems are called TechnoGrazing (brand name). The characteristics of IBS are faster cattle growth rates, reduced soil profile damage, close subdivision using power fencing, regular mob shifts with ease, rotation around the system at different rates in different seasons, improved pasture composition, livestock water availability in each cell, distribution of effluent evenly to minimise nutrient run-off or leaching, and good cattle behaviour to avoid fights, camps and ground damage. The systems have to be carefully laid out using GPS for the fence lines and water reticulation and Dennis has run lanes across hill slopes to help slow down water movement and reduce sediment loss. This provides a grass buffer to limit movements of effluent and sediment. The cost of building IBS is $2000/ha, of which 75% goes in the cost of cattle for initial stocking.

Temataa was a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Monitor Farm for three years from 2004 until 2007 and has held numerous field days to promote the use of IBS.

When Dennis and Rachelle ran conventional set-stock sheep and cattle (higher-performing sheep by Northland standards) the meat production was an average of 213kg/ha/yr carcass weight (2002-2004) and now with 80% of the farm in IBS and a smaller sheep flock the per farm production is 368kg/ha (beef 398kg and sheep 236kg) with 89% of total meat production coming from cattle. Older bulls are capable of returning $2500/ha versus under $1000/ha for sheep.

Temataa has 300 breeding Friesian Hereford-cross and Friesian Angus-cross cows and all their progeny are sold off the farm at weaning. Each year over 1150 100kg Friesian bull calves are purchased and sold as rising one-year bulls or kept until slaughter as rising two-year bulls. The ewe flock is 450 and all lambs are sold. Beef cows are kept in the system to provide some insurance against possible high calf prices when loading up the IBS with trading cattle and also have the ability to eat a lot of grass when pasture growth rates go through the roof. Plans have been executed to extend the IBS land area even further (three more systems), run more cattle and reduce sheep numbers, although some paddocks cannot be put under IBS because of physical or cultural reasons and so some sheep or set-stocked cattle will be required. Temataa is run by Dennis and one full-time farm worker with assistance from a part-timer.

The farm relies on four major dams as water sources. Water is pumped up to water tanks and gravity-fed across the whole farm. The reticulation is designed so that all systems provide back-up for each other. Water levels and flows can be monitored remotely and leaks identified quickly. All farm vehicles carry tools and fittings to enable quick fixes. Significant investment created what was described as a simple and fool-proof system. The dams are filled by springs and have large storage capacity for the dry, hot summer months. The 10 Technosystem IBS and 20 cellular system IBS (average cell size 0.80ha) require hundreds of water troughs, most being micro-troughs, enough for 50 cattle at a time. They are buried in the ground with the water surface level with the ground and connected to water lines underground.

For the past 15 years Dennis and Rachelle have developed a farming system that is both economically and environmentally sustainable. Before the introduction of intensive beef systems, the traditional set-stocking approach damaged the soils structure over winter (pugging) and put a ceiling on production. The developmental process has been:

To minimise soil damage.
To improve pasture quality and fertility.
To protect waterways from run-off of soil and nutrients.
To plant trees for shelter, erosion prevention and beautification.
Until now the focus has been to minimise pugging and fence off waterways from the hills down to the Parapara Stream, which flows into Doubtless Bay. The tree planting programme has suffered from droughts and possible wrong selection of species.

Livestock are kept out of waterways and streams and ditches affected by tidal flows have been fenced and planted in natives. The topography is quite complex with numerous small seeps and gullies, reed beds and some bare ground. Dennis plans to retire more wet areas from grazing.