The Pyramid - Diversification

June 2020

The Dawkins farm, the Pyramid, diversification in the Waihopai Valley

Diversified returns from sheep, cattle, forestry, firewood, honey and grapes on The Pyramid Farm, and a new development called Tummil Block, in the Waihopai Valley have facilitated the farming succession plan from Chris and Julia Dawkins to Richard and Jess Dawkins and their growing family.


The Pyramid Farm in the Waihopai Valley, Marlborough is a three-generation family farm, begun by Jack Dawkins in 1954, taken over by Chris in 1978, and now farmed by Richard and Chris under a succession plan. Richard’s brother Paddy and his wife Laura run Pyramid Apiaries, a nearby business that puts hives on the home farms.


Sheep form the backbone of Pyramid farm with productivity being improved by a gradual change in breed from Corriedale and Borderdale to a Crossbred-based composite breed with better lamb production and milking ability. The ewe flock is 1400 and the composite rams are Longdowns from Chris and Jane Earl at Scargill in North Canterbury. 


Pyramid is high up in ewe flock performance with diligent stock management including the careful integration of the cattle operation, rigorous monitoring of mating, pregnancy scanning and indoor birthing of triplet lambs. Post birth, lambs are closely monitored to ensure survival resulting in an exceptionally high weight of lamb weaned per ewe mated ratio. 


This season that number reached 63kg. Any orphan lambs are either mothered-on or fed cow’s colostrum using a homemade feeder along with lucerne chaff. Ewes with triplet lambs are supplemented with lucerne chaff and peas in the lambing shed and they stay anywhere from two to eleven days depending on lambing date. Once successfully lambed, the ewe’s mothering ability is established and the ewe and appropriate number of lambs graduate to a paddock of rye grass and clover, or Lucerne for the later mobs. About 10-15% of the flock have triplets or quads and 38% of the ewes successfully mothered three lambs. The mob which raised all three lambs averaged 99kg of lambs at weaning per ewe, with 62% sent to the works off mum.


Overall the lambing percentage is 163% at weaning and 80% of them go to the works at weaning in the third week of November at a target 19kg CW. This season they averaged $175/lamb. A high producing sheep has a lower carbon footprint per kilogram of meat and wool produced, compared to a less productive one. 


Since the 1990s, The Pyramid has traded cattle rather than breeding, concentrating on 100 Jersey bulls sourced as weaners from a Dawkins investment in a large dairy farm at Murchison. The bulls are leased out to northern South Island dairy farmers for mating duties as one and two-year-olds and then come back to Pyramid for autumn-spring. They are then sold as a three-year old.


Carry-over empty dairy cows provide further income and a pasture grooming service for the sheep flock by breaking the parasite cycle and reducing the need for drenches in both sheep and cattle, as well as maintaining pasture quality. Some Friesian bulls are also fattened for sale as two-year-olds.


A 50 ha Sauvignon Blanc vineyard has been established on the property and includes a large storage dam for irrigation, frost protection and stock water reticulation. With pastoral land valued around $7,000 per hectare and viticulture land at $150,000 per hectare, it was an important investment decision despite viticulture not being one of the family’s passions. The vineyard is run by a management company and the land has stayed within family ownership.


The first grapes were planted in 2016 and a further 50ha is planned for establishment in 2020. Although sauvignon blanc was the obvious market choice, 5ha of pinot noir will be planted in stage 2. 


Grapes have reached well up the Waihopai valley, now surrounding the Dawkins’ farm, and are considered the highest and best land use of up to 150ha of Pyramid. All establishment work is done by contractors. Separate titles may be created in future to aid succession.


The purchase of a neighbouring property called the Tummil Block occurred in 2015. The 187ha has needed an intensive redevelopment, including weed control, tree planting, fertliser, reticulated water, fencing, tracks, bridges and culverts and the establishment of productive pastures. When acquired it was estimated to run 400 stock units and with development is capable of 1000 SU.


Nassella tussock is grubbed, heavy broom and other woody weeds are sprayed or mechanically raked. Spot spraying continues, targeting a balance between weed control and feed for bees. Native species such as Melicytis (porcupine shrub) and manuka are now retained where practical. Old Man’s Beard is controlled in the QEII covenant.


The hard work on the Tummil Block has produced lamb finishing country with remarkable results in just two years. Some 70ha of the easier country has been through winter and summer crops to permanent pasture and the balance of the uncultivated hill country has received a big boost in phosphate and sulphur. The next task is to sub-divide with fencing and reticulate water for livestock, as well as continued weed control.


The Dawkins intend to keep livestock number at present levels and in carrying capacity the Tummil Block has effectively replaced Pyramid land planted to grapes, which can also be grazed for five months of the year.


Showdown Productions Ltd – Rural Delivery Series 15 2020