Pet mob turn to Pied Piper mode, New Zealand

The Merino Review, December 2021.


IT WAS FRIDAY JULY 16 WHEN Hayley Pitts of Mount Gladstone up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough was at the Howl of a Protest in Blenheim. She knew the weather was turning so as the afternoon rolled on, she decided to head home. Just as well, because if she’d waited much longer she might not have seen the farm for a few days.

“The Awatere River was horrendous, you couldn’t get anywhere and even the little creeks were massive,” Hayley says. It started raining on Friday night and Awatere Valley Road was washed out before sunrise on Saturday. Weather warnings had allowed them the chance to move stock to higher ground, but they never quite expected what was delivered.

“We were thinking it will never happen. But 140 millimetres fell in that first big rain, that was massive.”

Waking up on Saturday, admittedly not getting much sleep as the rain fell hard on the roof, the road and river levels were the worst they’d ever seen, with many holes and slips and damaged culverts. About 20m of road had been washed away, and as soon as conditions allowed they dozed a track around the side of a hill. “We could get through, but it certainly wasn’t State Highway 1,” says her husband Jeremy. A mob of 1200 hoggets needed shifting from the flooded vineyards up the valley to the home block. The 12km trek from where the damaged road allowed stock trucks to reach them taking about five hours, including navigating one big hole in the road, crossing the Hodder Bridge and going past diggers and trucks. Reluctance was obvious, so out came the mob of pet lambs with their son Harry (13), and the Merino hoggets led the way for the skeptical mob. “It was pretty good having the lead lambs, it was very cute too. They’ve certainly earned their bag of pellets,” says Hayley. The weather was still not on their side even at shearing time, so they borrowed the neighbours’ woolshed at Glenlee, which meant having to cross a second big bridge. Once again, Harry used his pets to make this possible. The rain damage may well have been increased by the dry summer and very dry autumn this year, leaving the Pitts family an extensive list of repair jobs. This included a few smashed floodgates that needed fixing or replacing, and plenty of track repair work.

“But on the whole, we came out pretty good. It was school holidays so we put the kids to work, probably not the adventure they had planned,” says Jeremy.

An added stress was accessing sheep they had grazing in a vineyard on the Wairau Bar on the north-eastern side of Blenheim, and were very grateful for the help they received. “Our staff and Wairau Bar locals were a huge help in the clean-up and rescue of the sheep in the flooded vineyard,” says Hayley. It was a similar but two-storm tale of damage for farmers Ross Bowmar and Jess Ensor who live at Redcliffs Station on the south bank of the Rakaia Gorge. On Friday May 28 the rain started to fall. The biggest deluge of 174mm fell between Saturday evening and Sunday evening, with a grand total of 264mm recorded at the house by Monday. It added up to the biggest flood on record. Out the back of the 1935ha farm, creeks were more like rivers. They knew bad weather was on its way, so had stock in position as best they could. But Redcliffs Bridge that runs through the middle of the property was completely buried by shingle, making it impossible to reach some stock and shift break fences, which Ross admits was very stressful.

“We couldn’t feed them, we had to use choppers to fly motorbikes over,” he says, adding that the Merinos were in a state of shock, and struggled to eat any food for about 10 days despite it being put in front of them.

Their condition was knocked back quite significantly and in October they were still a bit lighter than they’d normally be. “As my father-in-law (Willy Ensor) said, it’s not the year to be criticising people for their stock condition.”

Ross said this storm was just “one of those things that has never happened before” and a buried bridge was certainly never part of their farm management plan.

It took a week or so to get the bridge open again, thanks to the work of a good local contractor and the district council. In mid July when the second storm hit, TB testing had just started and the bridge was buried again, only taking 12 hours of rain for the shingle to do its damage this time because conditions were still wet from May. It was another four days before this could be opened again, a major access point for all supplies to the farm.

“Back in 1983 when it was built it was root raked for four to five metres of clearance. Now it’s back to one metre.”

In the May storm, their hydropower system built in 1983 was also buried and destroyed when the pen stock pipe was knocked out of alignment and buried under six metres of shingle. They could see the rain on its way, so sealed the pipe at the top, but it was buried by material backing up from the bridge which acted like a dam. Before fixing it, they were in the process of moving the hydro shed to a less flood-prone area, when they received another 156mm in the flood in July. “We had just dug everything out, then it all got buried again.” Ross says for that reason, the July flood was almost harder, even though it wasn’t as severe. “After the May flood, we carried on ourselves, but the July flood was harder to handle. Who would have thought it would happen again.”

The new hydro pipes are polyethylene, and buried deeper than the original 2.4m concrete pipes. At the beginning of October it was almost ready to go, which was a relief, after living off a diesel generator since the first storm with a running cost of $100/ day. Repair work also included fixing turbines, intake structures and investing in underground power lines in places. Fixing fences and flood gates was also a massive job, as was clearing the creek that got into the silage pit. Creating a resilient operation to future proof for flood events is top of mind, spending a bit more now to help down the track. “It’s not this never-ending list. I know the rebuild will come to an end, it may take us a year, but it is not forever…we’ve just got to chip away, that’s all we can do.”

They brought in extra labour, some thanks to local Facebook pages and job seekers relocating due to Covid-19. This helped significantly, as did the assistance from the local Federated Farmers, Rural Support Trust and Flood Recovery group.

“Every farmer has a ‘to-do’ list, but then it becomes extraordinarily big. It’s good to get it out on a bit of paper so it all becomes more digestible.”

See the article online here

Pet mob turn to Pied Piper | With Belles On mode
Pet mob turn to Pied Piper | With Belles On mode

Sustainable half century, New Zealand

The Merino Review, December 2021.


IT’S OCTOBER 2021 AT MULLER Station up the Awatere Valley where shearing has just finished, they’re into their first week of lambing, and the grass has just started to grow. Back in April up the Acheron Valley, Muller Station owners Steve and Mary Satterthwaite, their two children Alice and Ben, and the wider mustering crew were out on the hills for the Muller Station autumn muster, taking the ewes back to the Awatere Valley for the winter months. At the time, Steve was hoping for a good spring after a two-year dry spell with just two months of growth. Spring certainly would have been welcomed a month earlier, but after the challenging winter they were served, it’s starting to come right now – at last.

“We are going to have a very good early summer. We missed out on spring but there is so much moisture around now so we just need the heat,” Steve says.

He’s positive the frosts have more or less finished which will serve well for 35 days (two cycles) of lambing. In fact, the first 10 days of lambing could not have been kinder. Spring coming a month late is not an isolated pattern. The clear message over the past few seasons is that autumns are getting longer, winters are going later and therefore spring is starting later which means a delayed summer. September served a record rainfall of more than 350mm. Put this against their annual rainfall of 500mm and that’s some serious precipitation. In July the Marlborough region suffered a severe rainstorm. Awatere Valley Road was closed for 10 weeks due to slips and damage, making it impossible to get to Blenheim which eliminated opportunities of getting feed in or stock out. Even now with the road reusable it will be closed to public use until at least Christmas while continuing repairs are made, Steve says. Due to the time of year, this road closure was more stressful for farmers than when the road was closed for 19 weeks after the earthquake in November 2017. The impact this time around on animal management and livestock was greater, he says.

“That (the winter storm) was a bit of a major, but we got through.”

Farmers talk about climate volatility and how to best work with it to suit their farming programme, he says. That conversation may need to include reconsidering dates like when to put the rams out or when to shear. “It is something we need to roll with and understand a lot more. We need to re-evaluate if we have it right.” Muller Station is 38,800 hectares, including 28,000ha of pastoral lease. The Satterthwaites operate a “fairly simple” system, due to having genuine summer and winter country. The Awatere Valley is good for lambing and winter grazing, and the Acheron Valley is great summer country. This absolutely minimises winter feeding and crop growing,” Steve says. The calves and studs get supplementary winter feed of ryecorn crop and lucerne balage but normally nothing else does. At baling time, they save cost by working in with neighbours Molesworth and Middlehurst Stations to get a contractor in from Blenheim. Muller Station runs 6500 ewes (including just under 600 stud ewes), 5500 hoggets, 100 rams and 2300 Angus-cross cattle. Steve and Mary first bought Merino genetics from Charinga Merino Stud in Victoria, Australia, in 2004. Their ongoing relationship with the stud has created a consistent breeding base, allowing them to focus on breeding the sheep they want. It began with selecting a commercial ewe mob of 200 reflecting what they liked – a good dual-purpose sheep – and they aimed for consistency from the outset.

“We were lucky that our ewes really clicked with the original two rams we brought in.” Since then, they’ve used several sires from other studs from Australia and New Zealand. “It’s about muscle, fat, conformation, the quality and quantity of the wool and trying to produce the ideal dual-purpose sheep. And with that comes fertility,” he says. “Being on the same page as our ram clients is huge, sharing with them our breeding direction, listening to them, and taking on board their feedback.”

Steve says Covid-19 has changed the way farmers buy genetics. Going to Australia to look at rams is not currently an option. Because of that, Muller Station started using artificial insemination over some ewes. This year, 100 out of the 550 mated were inseminated artificially. “It’s always exciting seeing how that goes; how many lambs we get, what they look like and how they grow.” The Satterthwaites are clients of neXtgen Agri, and Steve says the advice and logistical help they receive is invaluable. Despite Covid-19’s impacts, Steve says commodity prices are near all-time highs, with contract prices with the New Zealand Merino Company (40% of their income) and high beef and lamb schedules looking the best they have ever seen.

“In fact, commodity prices for the past three years have been some of the best I’ve experienced in my farming career.”

The wool boom in the 1950s is regarded as a great era in NZ farming, but the difference now is all commodities (fine wool, lamb, beef and mutton) are really strong. Steve says the farming sector must seek to build stronger relationships with urban NZ. He believes the NZ Merino industry is an exemplar of environmental management standards for farming. “If we can portray that unity with our New Zealand partners and the integrity that goes into these relationships, the potential has never been better.” He’s a strong supporter of quality assurance programmes like ZQRX, introduced by The New Zealand Merino Company, because they are independently audited.

“It’s about focusing on the environmental issues that we face, which is why we have to be so constructive and positive in the messages we portray.”

Wind the clock back to the days of high country field days which started in the 1980s. In the early 2000s it was hosted by Muller Station, a few hundred farmers and industry partners stood around chatting about the concept of sustainability in the high-country. “It really was a topic. Today the term regenerative agriculture has become the buzz- phrase, but simplistically we’ve been doing that for the last 50 years.” Steve says farming today is about being aware of change, and the need to change, industry wide. The challenge is finding the balance to farm productively and profitably, in a sustainable and biodiverse way.

See the article online here

Sustainable half century | With Belles On
Sustainable half century | With Belles On

Pushing for what he believed in, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, June 2021.


Farmers used to lose entire herds to TB in New Zealand. This is one recollection Rob Corboy has of his 47 year career in the TB game. He has recently hung up his syringe, and has plenty of stories to tell. From his extensive work with vector surveying to giving tips on how to catch ferrets, life has always been interesting. Originally from Nelson, Rob cut his teeth with the Department of Agriculture on the Brucellosis scheme in 1974. Later that year he trained as a TB technician, qualifying in early 1975. He was transferred to Westport, where TB was what Rob described as “rife.”

“Farmers were losing whole herds.”

There were 120 infected farms in the Buller and Inangahua districts at the time. From then and into the 1980s, TB technicians used to test herds three to four times a year, and in the early 1980’s freezing works would not accept TB reactors. “So we’d slaughter them ourselves. We did a lot of slaughtering, and we got pretty good at it.” The TB testing scheme used to be Government owned. Once it was discovered that possums carried TB, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) employed the New Zealand forestry service to kill all possums throughout the country. “We had five three-man teams in Westport, and five three-man teams in Reefton.” Their job involved laying poison bait, night shooting and trapping. “And it worked. By the early 1980s there were less than 10 infected herds in the Buller and Inangahua.”

It was in 1967 when a sick possum was found on a badly infected farm in Mokihinui on the South Island’s West Coast. Before that no one had really known how TB had spread to the cattle. The Government pulled the funding when numbers got low, thinking they’d “won the battle.” The numbers subsequently went through the roof again, at which time the Biosecurity Act of 1993 was set up, removing funding responsibility from the Government. Described as a ‘turning point’ by Rob, the Act changed TB control to an industry scheme, and TB was seen as a pest rather than a disease. When the Act was first set up, the control agency for TB control, the Animal Health Board, was very understaffed, so numbers rose again, in fact higher than they’d ever been, with 1800 infected herds nationally by end of the 1990’s. Thanks to the ambitious goals of the Animal Health Board, today less than 20 herds across New Zealand are infected. Despite his near 50 year career, Rob has only worked for one company which has gone under different names. After the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries became MAF Quality Management it was then split into two State Owned Enterprises – Agriquality and Asure, which merged 14 years ago to become what is now known as AsureQuality. Rob once read in an old report written by the Department of Agriculture, that TB has been known in New Zealand since 1898, in Banks Peninsula when dairy farming was big over there.

The antigen for TB testing was first used in the late 1950s, and all town supply dairy farms were initially tested. “Just prior to the use of the antigen, the stock inspector would run the stock through the yards. If a cow coughed, it was deemed to have TB and was slaughtered.” Rob’s job has seen significant changes. Paper to electronic systems being one, modifications to the test, TB testing deer as well as cattle to name a few. The short thermal retest finished in 1974 just as he started. “This was archaic. There was four millilitres of the TB antigen injected into the cow, (now it’s one tenth of a millilitre). They’d measure temperatures every two hours for a 10 hour period to see if the animal had TB.” In the late 1970s, the Comparative Cervical test was used as a retest. Two sites on the neck were clipped, one with a tenth of a millilitre of bovine TB antigen, one with a tenth of a millilitre of avian TB antigen.

“You can’t see avian TB, so we’d be able to see which if the bovine strain was present. ” TB is a family of mycobacterium, including the bovine, human and avian strains. Rob moved to Rangiora, North Canterbury in March 1990 after 15 years in Westport, along with his feral animal expertise. Possum surveying was a big part of his job, and in 1992 a TB infected ferret was found in the Mackenzie country, just after the 1992 snows.

“We then started talking about vector control, not possum control. In fact, up to 25% of the ferrets initially had TB, compared to 1:1000 possums.”

Instrumental in ferret control Rob was instrumental in setting up ferret control.

“I had to push for what I believed in.”

He was training farmers how to catch ferrets, they would ring him up and ask them to be tested. In response Rob set up two freezers in North Canterbury where farmers would drop them off for autopsy. “To catch a ferret you need to find a meat source, rabbit colonies works best. I’d tell the farmer not to put the trap off the track, because ferrets are lazy.” Rob created a feral animal TB database, which later proved to be very valuable for applying for funding for TB control. “It’s something I’m really pleased I did.” There were 50 farmer-run pest control groups in North Canterbury, Local Initiated Programmes with materials funded by the Animal Health Board. Agriquality staff including Rob were independent facilitators. What followed was extensive ferret and possum control work and a large number vector surveys throughout Canterbury. The idea was to “get in front of the TB, rather than chase it.”

That was part of the success story, and those North Canterbury pockets of TB infected pests never crossed to the south side of the Waimakariri River. Rob said Vector surveys, combining using TB testing, vector control and animal movement control, accountability for vector control through monitoring, and the use of 1080 (which Rob admits is very controversial) all contribute to the low number of TB cases in NZ now. He moved into management roles in early 2000s, at one point, managing all the field staff in the top half of South Island including Canterbury. A biosecurity manager and trainer as well as a TB trainer, auditor, animal welfare inspector, Rob’s career has been varied.

“I can even take blood from alpacas, which isn’t easy.”

Working with wildlife has been a major part of his career, and one he is passionate about.

“A lot of things we know now, is because of that (wildlife) research.”

The role of female TB technicians has increased a lot, and he has no doubt he is handing the reins over to safe hands when Oxford based TB technician Mel Brooker takes over his role as TB technician trainer and assessor.

See the article online here

Pushing for what he believed in | With Belles On
Pushing for what he believed in | With Belles On

Station beefs up on Science, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, June 2021.

A river running through Mt Algidus Station is just one of the challenges faced by station managers Peter and Christine Angland. Story and photos by Annabelle Latz.

 It is unruly and has no manners at all. Life at Mt Algidus Station is heavily governed by the Wilberforce River, so going home chariot style is everyday living for station managers Peter and Christine Angland. They took the helm of the 22130ha beef and sheep high country property in 2012, accepting the immediate fact that they cross the Wilberforce River only when it chooses for them to do so. Mt Algidus Station sits at the foot of the Main Divide in Canterbury, where the Mathias, Rakaia and Wilberforce Rivers meet. As the crow flies, from their house Peter and Christine are actually closer to the West Coast’s Hokitika than Christchurch. The couple had made the move north from Waipori Station in Otago, which they’d been managing for 14 years. Previously they’d been managing Half Way Bay Station on the shores of Lake Wakatipu for six years, and Peter was working on nearby Mt Nicholas Station for six years before that.

‘Everything comes down to the weather here – there is a lot of peering at weather maps to decide when various things are going to happen – getting contractors, stock, supplies and visitors in and out all depends on being able to cross the river,” said Christine, while setting up for a day of TB testing in four different yards across the flats. They have three children who are cutting their own futures in various industries; Lachie, 27, works in cropping on arable land near Rakaia, Campbell, 26, has just joined the navy as a pilot and Annabel, 25, works in viticulture at Peregrine Wines. Peter and Christine had visited the area several times before moving to Mt Algidus, previously picking rams at nearby Snowden Station. The area with its massive landscape and history struck a chord, so when the opportunity to manage it arose, they went for it.

“The potential this place has is huge.”

Full time assistant manager Mark Pilcher is a key part of the team with his huge range of skills. He comes from a varied farming background including outback Australia and dairy farming, but has embraced the high country way of life. Beef production has been a major focus, all keeping their eye solidly on their goal of breeding efficient cows. They currently calve 1300 cows including 2 year-old calvers, and winter 2680 cattle in total, after selling mainly annual draft and finished 18-month-old cattle with some stores recently with the change in TB status.

“Our tail end 18 month old cattle stay another winter to help with tidying up poorer quality pasture in the summer.” Predominately the Anglands breed straight Angus cattle, with some Charolais and Hereford bulls in the mix to add some hybrid vigour going over the less desirable cows.

DNA technology

Peter said DNA technology will be a huge benefit for them achieving their breeding goals for the future improvement of the herd. All their heifers are home bred, and as the DNA records build it will be great help for making informed breeding decisions. “We can now use the estimated breeding values (EBVs) for the heifers to match to the bulls to improve their indicated weaknesses. In the next five to six years we will have a DNA profile on most of our cows, including both hybrid and purebred stock. That is pretty exciting,” said Peter. For the Anglands, breeding an efficient cow means calves that are not too big at birth, cows that are fertile, moderate sized with positive fats. Good 600kg Day Weights and intramuscular fat are now also being brought into the mix to improve carcase quality and size without hopefully increasing cow size too much. They have started breeding their own bulls using semen straws from Te Mania Angus stud, and really like what they are seeing with the offspring.

“Breeding and DNA testing our own heifers costs no more than buying a team of 12 or so bulls which we were needing to do each year and gives us access to better bulls than we could otherwise afford . DNA data can be a very useful tool and compliment progeny testing. It is just another tool to use when making breeding decisions.”

Sheep are another component at Mt Algidus. When the Anglands arrived 12 years ago most of the sheep had just been sold with only 260 MA ewes and 600 ewe hoggets remaining. This had been done due to a TB outbreak and not being able to sell store cattle as had been the practice so something had to give for feed reasons. The property has just completed its fourth clear whole herd test. Sheep numbers have been built up again to help with pasture management and weed control, and ewe numbers are slowly rising with ewe lambs retained as replacements and the balance of lambs mostly finished. The Anglands’ farm 3800 sheep, mainly Perendale ewes, mating the hoggets to Dorper crosses.

“This has led to easy lambing in the hoggets and the lambs grow and yield well,” said Christine.

Anything showing any sign of feet problems is managed with trimming and footbathing then mated to a Texel Suffolk cross ram for the rest of their time on the Station. Mt Algidus on average receives 1180mm of rain per year, with the Main Divide just behind them receiving as much as six metres.

“One December, there was one metre of rain in five days at Browning Pass on the Divide,” said Peter.

The high country farming scene has certainly seen some shifts over the years, with proposed changes in Government legislation and local body plans.

“It’s a matter of finding a happy medium, finding a way to work together and making science-based decisions.”

He and Christine have worked out their own refined grazing and pasture renewal programme. Generally it was swedes, followed by kale, then sowing back to pasture on the more productive country. Now, with the proposed slope and resowing “rules” in regards to winter cropping, some winter crops are being grown out in the stonier flatter areas of the farm which means more crop needs to be grown as the yields are not as good on this soil type. Rape and turnips are being autumn sown in these areas as this class of land is summer dry. Fencing off waterways with gravity fed stock water systems from mountain streams has been part of the great synergy they work hard on. 

There are also five QEII Reserves at Mt Algidus, which help maintain the special vegetation pockets, with two more in the pipeline. Ron Halford is another pivotal name within the essential working cogs at Mt Algidus Station. The Otaki-based farm adviser has been helping pave the way of high country farming success here for a decade. He already knew the area well, as had been farm advisor on nearby Lake Coleridge Station and Acheron Bank Station, for Bruce Miles. Ron visits the Station every two to three months, spending a couple of days with Peter and Christine as they collectively talk about the issues of the day, discuss the next quarter, review the financials, and make any required adjustments, to make those bottom line profits. When he first joined the ranks at Mt Algidus, there was a big focus on increasing cattle numbers and reducing sheep numbers, and over time increasing sheep numbers again. The big goals have remained the same, including managing water, increasing cattle numbers by building up a sufficient breeding herd, and looking after the environment in the form of retiring land when required, and fencing off significant waterways and land areas of significant conservation value. Ron said it is absolutely important to have the right staff on the ground, and this Station is proof of this.

“Their enthusiasm and drive has allowed us to achieve what we wanted to, it’s a great team at Mt Algidus.”

Government complexity

It comes as no surprise that the increased level of Government legislation and rules imposed adds layers of increased complexity to their meetings. “Having to crop greater areas comes at a cost, and yields can come down. But you can’t do much about Government legislation and at the end of the day, the law is the law. You have to farm within that, even if most farmers work hard to leave the land in a better place than they found it anyway.” Ron said Mt Algidus is “right up there” with its beef production programme. “The in-calf rate is very good, as is the calving percentage. It’s about good on-farm management and having cows in peak condition at the right time.” Finishing carcase weights are not quite where they want them to be yet, but this is a continual development and they are certainly heading in the right direction. Variation in pasture quality is part of the reason, and they are all working hard to improve soil fertility and pasture species as more land is brought in as part of the farm development side of things.

“We would like to add another 10 to 15 kilograms to carcase weights, which is part breeding, part genetics. When you’re finishing 500 to 600 beasts a year, that is quite significant.”

Ron very much looks forward to his regular visits. “It’s a unique place, and a really good place to visit. I find it relaxing, working with great people is a privilege really.” Ron flies to Christchurch, drives through Inland Scenic Route 72, straight to the riverbed and gets a lift across the Wilberforce River by Peter or Christine behind their tractor. “I have been helicoptered in too, that river certainly rules what can and can’t be done.” They are confident their focus on fine tuning the current management system, improving pasture production and quality and measuring the economics of the net product going out the gate, is the best way forward.

“We are always learning, and always open to suggestions and ideas.”

Peter and Christine and Mark manage the place like it is their own, and after spending a day in the yards with them, the proof is evident.

“Farm management is not a rehearsal, you have to give it your best shot,” said Peter.

See the article online here

Station beefs up on Science | With Belles On
Station beefs up on Science | With Belles On
Station beefs up on Science | With Belles On
Station beefs up on Science | With Belles On

Appreciating it all, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, August 2021.

Words and pictures by Annabelle Latz

The Satterthwaites of Marlborough recently mustered their Merino flock together for the first time as a family. This year’s autumn muster was one for the history books for the Satterthwaite family at Muller Station in Marlborough. Parents Mary and Steve and their two children Alice and Ben were for the first time ever as a family, bringing the 4500 Merino ewes out of the Acheron Valley and into the Awatere Valley for the winter months. The 1800 two-tooths had been mustered in earlier, due to the drought. In years gone by, boarding school, university and work commitments, or living abroad has meant one of the children has always been preoccupied during this iconic week of the annual farming calendar. Alice, 24, has taken the reins of head shepherd for the time being, and with mentoring from Steve will move into the role of stock manager. Her plan is to learn as much as she can, before handing the tuition reins over to her little brother Ben, 21, while she heads away for a stint to learn some more skills either in another part of New Zealand or overseas.

“I haven’t done the North Island yet, and it’s something I want to do to gain more knowledge in different areas. The idea is to come back home eventually.”

Ben is enjoying time back home on Muller Station, having recently finished his studies at Lincoln University. He’s soon heading north to Gisborne to learn the ways of East Coast station life. Alice is thoroughly enjoying stepping up in the responsibility ranks at Muller Station, especially on the autumn muster with the whole family and their two permanent shepherds involved. “It’s the highlight of the year, the tradition of being out here doing it, enjoying both the physical and mental challenge.” Organising the team and the beats on the muster provided Alice an opportunity to muster some country for the first time.

“It’s great to gain some experience and knowledge from dad, so one day when he’s not here I can run the camp myself.”

Alice has always known the farming sector is her career calling, and although at boarding school in Christchurch she enjoyed team sports during the week, nothing jeopardised her ability to head home for as many weekends as she could to lend a hand on the farm. After school she headed to Clayton Station in Fairlie, South Canterbury for a year. This was followed by stints abroad including working on a cattle station in Derby, Western Australia which she “absolutely loved,” time on sheep studs in South Australia and New South Wales, back to the South Island for two seasons on Muzzle Station, Kaikoura Ranges, and time in England working on an estate in Hambleden, Henley on Thames, an hour south-west of London. Alice has always enjoyed her stints back home on Muller Station, the world of high country isolation with her team of dogs marking her favourite place.

“I love the feeling of just being out there, in what seems like some pretty untouched uninhabited country, almost getting the sensation that you are the only one who has been there.”

Sheep genetics is of huge interest to Alice, and she was very involved in the Marlborough two-tooth competition earlier this year, which Muller Station won. Muscle and fat makeup and conformation are a continual focus in the breeding operation at Muller Station. Alice said selecting objectively measured genetics at both a commercial and stud level has made significant progress in sheep performance and health, therefore helping to boost the bottom line. “The incorporation of ASBV’s (Australian sheep breeding values) along with selecting for phenotype has really boosted muscle and fat and therefore fertility and do-ability across the stud and commercial flocks, without compromising on wool quality and quantity.”

At the competition, Alice spent some time with Dr Mark Ferguson, the man behind NeXtgen Agri and the podcast Head Shepherd. His ethos is one that resonates with Alice; ‘Farming in our hearts, science in our heads.’ She says some people don’t know what to do with breeding values and how to incorporate them into their breeding operation to make their sheep more profitable. NeXtgen has created a platform whereby people of all backgrounds can make use of the team’s objective knowledge.

“It’s great to gain some experience and knowledge from dad, so one day when he’s not here I can run the camp myself.”

Muller Station is a NeXtgen client, and they work closely with Will Gibson who helps to class the sheep and analyse the data side of the stud flock. Alice said this data is invaluable, as individual sheep are assessed on both phenotype and genotype along with their maternal history. All the scanning material, complete breeding history, number of lambs weaned, (bred vs weaned, which helps with decisions about what to keep), and estimated breeding values are all gathered. “We class the hoggets before we class the ewes, so we can see whether it’s a good lamb or not, was it the right sire, was it a lazy mother, and assess the weaning weight.” The Merino industry is one that Alice says is an exciting one to be part of, with lots of space for the future especially in the areas of sustainability and the environmental enhancement.

“I think it’s a pretty safe industry to back; who knows what we will be using Merino wool for in 10 years’ time?”

The approach to Merino farming is much like the approach to anything someone has a desire and passion for. “If you have a keen interest, and a bit of a ticker behind you, just go for it.” Alice’s mum Mary said the love Alice has for farming life has been obvious since she was in a pram. During one autumn muster many years ago, Alice rode her pony Pepper all the way through to Munroe Hut, but riding any further was deemed too much for the infant. “She wasn’t allowed to ride through the Munroe Saddle, so she cried all the way home. I remember she used to sit on Steve’s pommel, she was basically born on a horse.” Despite the challenges of high country life, whether it be the weather or the market trends, it’s the sense of achievement after a good day on the hills that will always drive Alice to be where she is ultimately happiest.

“It’s when you’re out on the hill and you come in … and feel truly lucky to be here, sitting on the veranda with a beer in your hand.”

See the article online here

Appreciating it all | With Belles On
Appreciating it all | With Belles On

Becoming a practical Kiwi, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2021.

Alternating artificial insemination with veterinary nursing keeps Scottish migrant Kim Armstrong busy. Words and photos by Annabelle Latz.

 IT’S A LITTLE BIT OF THE SURVIVAL of the fittest in New Zealand when it comes to breeding cows. Kim Armstrong is an artificial breeding technician in North Canterbury for LIC, a transition from her vet nurse career which she began in her homeland of Scotland before venturing here six years ago. As the place where she grew up on a sheep and beef farm which later was converted to a dairy farm, and where she began her career, Kim has been very aware of the difference between breeding systems in the United Kingdom and NZ. One example Kim used was that NZ farmers might not spend or have the budget for vet expenses like caesareans, compared to the UK where it seems to be common.

“New Zealand farmers appear to have a more practical breeding system, compared to the UK where it’s about bigger and faster-growing carcases.”

Along with seasonal work such as teat sealing and disbudding, AI technician work means the busiest time of the year is upon her, being October to December which can extend into January. The 32-year-old says the key to her job is to respond as quickly as possible to each farmer with precision and speed to get on to the next farm and do it all over again. Speed is important with this job as the window for the heat is only 12-18 hours, every three weeks. As the herd is brought in from the paddock the farmer selects cows that appear to be more active, bulling, wrestling, showing discharge from the vulva, have riding marks, and some may even have small wounds on their pin or tail bones, hoof marks, mud or slobber on their sides. “These are all signs of a cow on heat.” Bad weather can make it difficult to identify any cows on heat due to their lack of movement in the paddock in cooler temperatures. Tail painting is a method farmers use, which Kim says works well as rubbed off paint is a sure sign.

“Some farmers will start with one colour of tail paint, then change the colour after I have inseminated the cow to see how many times she has cycled or been inseminated.”

Kim says some farmers with smaller herds will have their own banks of semen and do their own AI work, but a lot say it’s too much pressure and not fast enough. “There are plenty of opportunities if you miss a heat, however, it’s ideal to get the herd as close together as possible to reduce the amount of time calving.” Kim will AI hundreds of cows a day, and accuracy is vital. “A great deal of AI’ing is about placement, it has to be 100% accurate.”

Farmers register their cows on the LIC database, which has a range of bulls to choose from where they look through prices, type, weights and gestation periods. “I think New Zealand has a practical view on their breeding systems.” Outside of her AI technician role, Kim is back at her local vet clinic as a veterinary nurse three to five days a week. During autumn through to June, she is kept busy teat-sealing cows, she gets her ‘lull’ during June and July, then disbudding starts in August and takes her through to the AI season.

“September and October are busy too with pre-mating, metri-checking and calving. It all fits in quite nicely for me.”

Kim thoroughly enjoys the variation of her jobs throughout the year, which has been a natural progression from vet nursing. “I love it all, the practical, social and physical aspects. It’s quite rewarding.” It was when she was still in Scotland she began helping a friend with AI work in 2014. “I knew the money was pretty good and I could work in New Zealand with that skill. I was also really interested in genetics.” Hailing from southwest Scotland’s Wigtownshire in Galloway, Kim began her vet nurse career at the Academy Vet Centre in Stranraer, Galloway, in 2009.

In 2015 she came to NZ for what was initially a three-month trip, based in Gore, Southland, working as an AI assistant. This trip turned into 10 months travelling around most of the lower South Island then moving to North Canterbury where she worked as a vet nurse at Rangiora Vet Centre. In 2019 Kim spent four months back in Scotland for some family time and a lambing season, and looking back now, is so grateful. “I was so lucky to get back home pre- Covid to see family and friends. I’m not sure when I will see them again.” Coupled with her role as an AI assistant, she further developed an interest and in 2020 undertook her apprenticeship.

“It’s been quite a ride,” Kim grins.

Apart from a couple of winter escapes, NZ has been her base ever since, and Oxford in North Canterbury is where she now calls home. Slotting into Kiwi life has been pretty straightforward for Kim. She competes and hunts her horse Zeus, thoroughly enjoys Kiwi people and culture, spends much of her spare time hiking and biking in the mountains, and is training for the Two Day Coast to Coast with her partner Joe.

“I like to keep fit and healthy, and enjoy a good social life too.”

See the article online here

Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On

Finding the balance, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2021.

Strict crop rotation is a key to success for the Bierema family on their Mid Canterbury farm, Annabelle Latz writes.

Running a successful cropping farm is about being consistently good, not always striving for records. Steven and Freda Bierema along with their three young sons moved on to their Mid Canterbury farm in the winter of 2004, from the Netherlands. It was a case of seeing how the arable farming Kiwis do it and following suit, while they found their feet.

Two adults, three young boys, seven suitcases.

“One of the boys said to me, ‘Do you know what you are going to do?’ I said ‘No, but we are going to make it work,’” recalls Steven, a sixth generation arable farmer from the Netherlands. “Not one problem is that big that you can’t solve it,’’ Freda adds. The 500ha farm near Rakaia was a dryland one when they moved there, and they learned quickly about what Mid Canterbury arable farmers had been doing for years, which Steven described as the “traditional Mid Canterbury crop rotation”. Two linear irrigators were installed quickly, and later they added several pivots. After a couple of years of easing into the New Zealand farming way of life, the Bierema family started to incorporate some of the knowledge they gained in their Dutch farming years.

But when it comes to the basics of farming economics, it’s the same the world over.

‘Turnover minus cost is profit or loss. If you can control your cost, you can create your profit. If you can’t control your costs, you will end up in the red.” Striking efficiency meant looking at the farm and paddock size. They introduced a six-year crop rotation of clover, peas, cereals, brassicas and grass seed, with a focus on “finding that middle ground” of replacing soil nutrients and breaking weed and pest cycles with their rotation in place.

“I come from a very intense cropping system, so there was a lot of trial and error for the first couple of years, with not much technology.”

Buy in store lambs

Autumn and spring cropping has always been on their annual programme. They feed lambs on the winter crops which change from clover to oats to new grass as grazing store lambs is a massive part of grass management. They prefer Romney cross lambs, which they buy later in the autumn, preferably store size between 30-33kg, and run an average of about 5000 in a season. Methods of drilling and cultivation can vary, the outcome dictates what they use. They try to find that middle ground with what works and what doesn’t work.

 “The outcome is the goal, and how to get there is not a goal in itself.”

Autumn and spring-sown crops means finding a balance with the crop rotation, and different species means different modes of action for chemicals. On arrival in 2004, grass weeds were a problem, but diverse crop rotation and varying chemical use helped mitigate this; finding the middle ground and keeping everything in balance. Grass grub has been the biggest enemy, but there are still insecticides available to use and biologicals are looking to be a promising option for the future. “It will always remain a challenge,” Steven and Freda’s middle son Pieter Taco says. Incorporating all residues is done by cultivation. Wheat straw is sold to the mushroom industry. The waste product, mushroom compost, comes back to the farm and is used to increase the organic matter of the soil and therefore the fertility.

“Our goal is to make our farming system as circular as possible.”

They also lease two paddocks from their neighbours, which are on a 12-year rotation for potatoes and lilies. The lilies are grown for the bulbs, the potatoes for their seeds and processing. “A 12-year rotation means there is enough time to get the restorative phase back.” Pieter Taco, 26, has moved home to help run the farm. He studied Bachelor of Commerce majoring in agriculture at Lincoln University, has worked in Europe and Australia, and is now happy to be back on home turf with his parents. They do most of the work themselves including all the fertilising and spraying, a neighbour provides transport, and a contractor does the baling.

Succession a gradual process

Succession of the farm has always been an open conversation for the Bierema family, a gradual process both physically and mentally. “You are never solely the boss, you always have to deal with someone else,” Steven says, who bought his own family farm from his parents in The Netherlands and paid his three sisters out. “And we have to make sure we pass it on to the next generation in a good way.” The oldest son is a political scientist at Galway University (Ireland), while the youngest son works in the rural team for ANZ. Pieter is very aware of the changing regulations with farming such as freshwater, but is not overwhelmed or concerned.

“It’s baby steps every year, the farming world will not be turned on its head.”

Regulations set by the companies who buy their crops are a big part of their farm practice, but ones he acknowledges are for good reason, as it’s all about ensuring quality. The requirement for isolation blocks between different varieties of crops can prove difficult at times. It can be hard on their own farm and neighbouring farms. “Sometimes it’s up to five kilometres of isolation block. But you need that for quality standard.” Pieter says although not everything has to be sold prior to planting, you need those contracts, which are gained from proven track records.

“It’s about planning, and acknowledging that although not everything is successful, you learn as you go, and adjust as you go forward.”

Efficiency and simplicity with the different crops are the strengths of the farm, as are the good soils and irrigation which means good production security. The last five years has been about fine- tuning their methods, and they’ve added a grain drier and improved storage facilities. Steven says consistency is key, and the more control from their end, the more they are able to deliver. “Harvest time is crucial, so if the weather is not favourable, we can dry it ourselves.” Steven acknowledges that one year wheat is good, and another year that might be the clover, and it’s a matter of finding balance and having everything in place from the machinery to the crop rotation to the people involved.

“Farming is always in progress, it is always changing, it is never static.”

On a per hectare basis, a yield of anything over two tonnes of grass seed is a bonus, anything under two tonnes is bad. They like to hit 800kg for clover and the benchmark for barley is 10t, always double figures. For the milling wheat, anything over 11t is good, the feed wheat is aimed at 12- 14t or over. The aim of the peas is 5t, and anything under 3.5t is disappointing. In the past 20 years they have seen a 2% yield increase every year. Steven says “irrigation, disease control, new varieties and seasons play a big role in this.”

For the machinery side of things, a mix of self-owned, hire purchase and contractors gets the job done. Both in The Netherlands and NZ, their aim is that between 15- 20% of the turnover cost of production is depreciation, maintenance and contractors, and they have managed to control this at 17%. “So this means 3% is profit,” and also leaves some wriggle room for things like inflation or new technologies, Steven says. Everything that has an engine gets replaced every seven to 10 years. The cultivators, tip trailers, and drill replacement depends on when there is new technology that has added benefits.

Change not so dark

He predicts a lot of change in the next five to 10 years in relation to freshwater regulations and carbon emissions, and says research and collaboration is the path for a successful future, for both his family and agriculture as a whole. “If you look at Groundswell lately, a lot of farmers are anxious about what this change will be and mean. But I think it’s not that dark.” He sees organisations such as FAR as being very essential in providing knowledge and support.

“We must reduce the inputs and maintain productivity, we just need to find a solution to do this.”

Steven says NZ farmers must remember that regulation of farming is happening all over the world, and it’s all about adaptation. “Change is difficult, and annoying. But farming has never been the same, otherwise we would still be ploughing with horses and harvesting by hand.” Pieter agrees with his father, and as a young farmer himself believes progress needs research, and research allows for change. He says it’s the mind shift farmers now face which is massive. “Our only hope is to keep production up, and decrease cost. And that is a tricky challenge.”

As a family, Pieter believes they are reasonably on track with succession, and predicts the farm will pretty much run as status quo for the next few years. “You never know what opportunities come up, and you just react when one does, and assess it on its merits.” The Bieremas’ 130ha farm in the Netherlands was just north of Uithuizen, a small rural town in the Northernmost part of the country. They grew wheat, grass seed, tulips, carrots, sugar beet and seed potatoes. They had cool storage for 6000 tonnes of produce stacked in bins and an industrial grading facility. The move to the Southern Hemisphere nearly 20 years ago was one the family saw as an exciting new challenge.

“We don’t mind change, I never have, and we wanted a new challenge. We had done our homework reasonably well, we knew it would not be along the same route with intensification, but basically trying to find that balance,” Steven says. He is now a board member of Foundation for Arable Research (FAR).

See the article online here

Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On

Keeping the working dogs naturally cosy, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.


It was mid June 2020, sleet was falling, and Billy Dowle looked out the window from his cottage in Scargill, North Canterbury to see his mainstay Huntaway, Earl, sleeping in his dugout next to his kennel, rather than on the hard wooden floor. Earl obviously needed a new bed. Billy and his partner Annabelle Chilwell headed out to buy him a new bed, but were disappointed to only find expensive synthetic ones, and nothing offering them a natural product. “So I decided to make one myself,” Annabelle says, who grew up around wool and sewing machines as her mother had a woollen clothing business in Boyup Brook, Western Australia.

Before long, they’d headed down the path of researching canvas and wool-fills. It was a bit of a case of trials and tribulations to find the right canvas, to ensure it was one that did not create condensation inside the kennel. In a matter of weeks, the team of working dogs Pip, Nui, Earl, Floss, Gin and Squirt all had their own canvas wool-filled beds, and loved them. Both Billy and Annabelle were casual farm workers in North Canterbury, and were moving to Benmore Station in the MacKenzie Basin where Billy was taking the position as stock manager.

They’re now the proud owners of dog bed and dog coat company, Natural Hound. Launched in December 2020, the first couple of months of production have been scary, busy, full of lessons, and most of all, exciting. “We’ve had a lot of support from farmers which has been really cool,” Annabelle said. Billy said gaining confidence in what they do has been a major factor. Early days saw them questioning whether to buy three metres of canvas to test a few out, now they’re looking at bulk orders. After buying the first canvas he had 10 cents left in his bank account. He said to Annabelle, “We are really going to have to make this work!” The first few orders were from friends, and they still remember the buzz they got from the first website order received in mid-December. The word about Natural Hound has mainly been spread through social media, and they’ve been rolling out 10-20 beds a week ever since. This keeps Annabelle busy as she’s a part-time casual farmhand and part-time dog bed manufacturer. She cuts the canvas in Scargill and sends the items to Christchurch to be sewn. These are returned to her and she fills them with a wool-polyester blend. “The little bit of polyester in the inner enables the bed to maintain its loft and stops the wool from compacting. It also makes the beds a bit lighter to move. We’re looking at natural alternatives for this, like bamboo and hemp.”

The market is mainly around the South Island at the moment, although they would like to look into the North Island, and eventually Australia and the US.

The other part of their business is the woollen felted and canvas dog coats, which they launched at the local A&P Shows in March and April around Canterbury. Annabelle sewed these herself. Beds range in price depending if they come filled or not; $90-$120 or $110-$160. The coats will range from $75-$85. They offer a 15% discount when buying three or more. They didn’t share their cost of production but did say if they put them into retail stores they would have to up their price by 100%.

Billy said it was a great feeling to be supporting the strong wool industry, because it’s a quality resource that has so many uses. He remembers about a month ago when a farmer placed an order for one bed for his bitch who’d just had a litter of pups. He contacted them soon again afterwards to ask for a bulk order. “That to me is saying a lot. If you get your dog a bed and they really love them, you know you’re onto something.” Animal welfare is becoming a big thing on farms and nearly gone are the days where work dogs live in cold drafty kennels. Farmers are also starting to realise the long term benefits of dog health by looking after them. “Products don’t need to be a designer label made from wool adding to the price tag. Our products are locally made and filled/lined with New Zealand strong wool and we still manage to be price competitive against synthetic products and maintain a high NZ quality standard.” With autumn around the corner and the air temperatures soon to drop, they’re both looking forward to launching the coats. “It all goes back to that moment when we said to each other ‘Are we going to do this?’ And we’re so pleased we did,” said Billy. •

More at

See the article online here

Keeping the working dogs naturally cosy | With Belles On

One Step At A Time, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.

Andrew and Penny Zuppicich took on a run down sheep and beef farm called Kilmarnock in Hurunui, North Canterbury last year. Annabelle Latz spoke with the couple to find out how they bought Kilmarnock and their plans to bring the farm back to its former glory.

Kilmarnock is a farm rich in history, and the letters KILM still grace some of the gates, even if not many swing anymore. Up the Blythe Valley, a stone’s throw from Motunau Beach in the Hurunui District of North Canterbury, the 870 hectare sheep and beef farm was to end its reign with the Deans family at the beginning of 2020. When young farming couple Andrew and Penny Zuppicich, both aged 37, saw it at the start of 2020, it needed more than a lick of paint. Only two gates swung, most of the fences had been bulldozed away with the posts left standing, grass was growing above the homestead’s deck which was flanked by a number of old tractors, and cattle were grazing on the lawn. In 2019, Penny and Andrew were given six months notice that their lease was ending at Kaikoura Inland Road. With enough for a modest deposit, they hit the road, travelling the length of the South Island to seek their first and ‘forever’ farm. By March 31, 2020 they’d moved into a neighbour’s cottage on the Inland Rd, finally moving into their new home on May 5 last year. Their stock went to their lease block while the formalising took place. Because of the Covid-19 lockdown, stock agents could not be on the property, and were reluctant to sell stock. “So I put a message out to some duck shooting mates. Within six hours we had 3000 lambs sold. That was a huge mental relief.” If moving onto your first farm with three young children was not challenging enough, add in a lockdown, and you’ve got a real task on your hands with significantly less help at your disposal. With help from grandparents, Penny and Andrew spent a week moving, and were allowed two extra days to get off their lease block.

“We had to leave our house and lease during lockdown which was extremely stressful and (it) was hard to get help. I was having to turn the pillow over several times during the night as it was soaking wet from stress,” says Andrew. This farm was on the market for quite a while, and would have not been affordable if it wasn’t run down. No paddocks were fully stock proof, 90% of fences will need replacing over time, and to date 700 hours have been spent grubbing or spraying tussock. “The bones on this place are unreal. The setting is good, the yard locations are great. And I’ve never run over so many worms in all my life. I hope we can give the property what it deserves, bringing it back to its former glory,” says Andrew. Year one is getting the stock water sorted which means six kilometres of piping, year two is getting the fencing back in while year three will be applying capital fertiliser. They own a drill and spray unit so all tractor work is done in house.


They started making a list of jobs to do, but realised there were too many. It was important to break down the work and chip away at a manageable rate. “It reminded me of a conversation in a pub I had in the back of Kenya. The guy had just walked the length of Canada – he bought a map when he started but after two weeks he realised he wasn’t making a dent in the map, so he threw it away and bought another one when he was getting closer to the end,” said Andrew. Penny was born and raised in Christchurch, and with a professional background in banking she knows her way around asking for a loan. “Persistence beats everything, you have got to follow your gut instinct if you like a place,” she says. Andrew agreed, and says if they didn’t have three young kids they may not have pushed so hard, but there was no other option. Although they are very busy, Penny and Andrew also celebrate the good bits. “The last six months has delivered an amazing growing season, we sold all our lambs pre-Christmas, they were weaned by the end of November,” said Andrew. He compared this to farming on Inland Road, where they weaned on January 20. “It sometimes feels like we’re working less,” he says. For the last four years they’ve had an additional 1535ha lease block in North Canterbury, and it works well for the stock numbers they’re running. In 2020 they wintered 1350 half bred ewes, 1000 one year old Romney ewes, 400 half bred hoggets, 270 MA cow, 50 in calf heifers, 65 R1 heifer replacements, 210 R1 trading cattle, 90 R2 trading cattle, and they also winter grazed 775 dairy cows. Andrew has mainly been a one man band, with the help of a casual worker once every two weeks for the yard work.


Andrew lived the last 25 years up Kaikoura Inland Road, and for six years he and Penny managed it, and a block next door, when they returned from overseas. “It was a wicked opportunity.” Six years ago the farm was sold, and Andrew along with his siblings were given a 20% share, in which they could borrow against for whatever business they ventured towards. Holding off on a farm purchase for a while, they had already been leasing the neighbour’s farm for a year, so continued on with that. Penny said they’d heard the farm owner was looking for a new farm manager. Andrew rang the farm owner from a Trade Me advertisement and asked if he’d be interested in taking them on. “He (the farm owner) agreed to the lease on the condition that he kept the best 100ha to grow and harvest barley,” said Penny. That lease ran out in 2020. Andrew said although leasing is extremely stressful, it is one of the only ways to move into farm ownership. “Sadly, banks don’t look at your CVs and what you have managed – they look at accounts, and what assets you have.” He said leasing is 95% communication with the owner, and 5% stock work. “All good leases are never advertised. Go and ask a neighbour or a guy down the road. And never look at the whole picture, look at how it will best suit the owner as it is their property they take pride in. Offer to leave some land for him or a stock equity, more consider all odd options. Because at the end of the day it is their property, so make a business plan you think will best suit them as well as you.” That is exactly what happened with the lease block they have now. Andrew got talking to the new farm owner, who is a travelling businessman and has the farm for hunting, forestry and honey, and asked if they could lease it. “It’s about building up,” said Andrew. “Build up your asset value. Start by leasing, then buy a motorbike.” He says a $2 million farm can become a $3.4 million farm. Turning to diversification, Penny says it will be interesting to see what impact Covid-19 has on wool prices. At Kilmarnock they can sell stores or take them through, and run a high ratio of cattle compared to sheep. It’s a good work life balance too. Casuals ring up looking for work which “would never have happened at their old place,” and Andrew has joined the local Surfing For Farmers group, who meet each Thursday at the local Gore Bay. “I’ve never been a surfer in my life.”

They were in the thick of the activity for the November 2016 earthquake that rocked the Inland Kaikoura Ranges. A few of the farming families around the Kaikoura Inland Road hunkered down in one farm cottage for the emergency’s initial duration, to save the use of multiple generators and ensure everyone was safe. During this time Penny was heavily pregnant with their second child Evie; subsequently she and their eldest child Hugo were heli-evacuated to Christchurch. “We all felt it was too hard to look after the farm and make sure the family was safe,” says Andrew. He added that the family unit has always, and will always be, top of the priority list, with Hugo, 5, Evie, 4 and Beau, 2. “No matter how busy the day has been, we’re always both at home to help each other with feeds and bath times, although sometimes easier said than done.”

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One Step At A Time | With Belles On
One Step At A Time | With Belles On

Vet Farmer and Athlete, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, April 2021.

Taihape vet, farmer and family man Anthony Oswald finds adventure racing takes his mind off the everyday as well as being good fun.

Annabelle Latz tracked him down to find out more.

Multi day adventure racing means entirely removing yourself from society. Your entire focus is about getting to the next checkpoint. All you think about is eating, navigation, and when you are going to lock in your next three hour sleep. It means no phones, and none of the day to day pressures of being a busy vet, farmer, father and husband.

Taihape-based veterinarian Anthony Oswald was gearing up for GODZone Adventure Race. This took place in Rotorua on March 6. He says that the longer the race, the better. “I usually finish these races physically drained. But mentally I feel like I’ve hit the reset button – I think this is a result of the mind operating with a simple focus and a good dose of sleep deprivation.” Self-described as a jack of all trades within his veterinary profession, Anthony works mainly with sheep, beef and deer, but also has quite an interest in orthopedic surgery on working dogs. “I just try and avoid cats and small white dogs.” Creating good relationships with farmers is a priority, as well as a favourite part of his job. Anthony says this is imperative to forming a sound partnership between advice delivery for key topics like internal parasites, flystrike and trace elements. It quickly became apparent early in his career that the business model of rural veterinary practices is heavily reliant on the sales of animal health products for a sustainable business. He said a good vet must also have great knowledge about animal health products that are at least part of the solution for animal health issues. “It’s about creating good relationships with farmers so they would first trust, then value my advice.” He finds the vet profession rewarding when he is able to work with clients to change management practices that lead to increased farm performance, and finding solutions to problems both stock performance and animal health related. In addition, he still gets a kick out of the likes of calving a cow and getting a live calf, or doing surgery on an injured dog and getting it back to work. “Not a week would go by I’m not learning something new – a new surgical technique, a new synchrony programme for artificial insemination (AI) in cattle or a different treatment for a disease.” Born and raised on the family farm Duntroon up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, Anthony has sheep and beef farming running through his blood. Becoming a sheep and beef vet “seemed a good idea,” with local vet Pete Anderson being an inspiration. Anthony and his wife Charlotte with their two young children Pippa, 8 and Jonty, 6, farm 50ha close to Taihape where they finish 280 weaner stags and a small Texel stud.


Anthony gets a lot of satisfaction being part of an industry that has a great track record in increasing performance but is also in a good space environmentally. He makes a point of noting the performance of sheep farming during the last 30 years in New Zealand. Total sheep numbers have decreased by 30.6 million (53%) yet lamb production is only down by 9%. This increase in performance, a result of a 31% increase in lambing percentage and an increase in average lamb carcase weight of 5.2kg (37%), is “nothing short of amazing.” Over this period greenhouse gas emissions from sheep have also reduced by 41%. While the heat has been on the rural sector from an environmental perspective, he believes sheep and beef farmers are generally doing a good job and responding well. Around the Taihape region, farmers have been very proactive in fencing waterways off. More recently local catchments groups have been set up, one outcome being the testing of waterways. Most of the early results are highlighting how good the water quality is around sheep and beef farming. “Greenhouse gas emissions for the sheep and beef sector are 31% lower than 1990 levels. People in the sheep and beef sector preaching these type of facts have little impact in changing the public perceptions about farmers’ impact on the environment. The key going forward is to get others to be telling our story.”


Anthony cut his teeth in the vet profession as a locum in Balclutha. His second job was in Alexandra, Central Otago. He quickly realised that while researchers and vets before him had provided a great deal of knowledge he could draw on, there were still many unanswered questions out there. From early in his career, he has presented papers to the veterinary profession on sudden death in ewes due to listeria, veterinary involvement in an animal welfare investigations, copper deficiency and toxicity, plantain – associations with milk fever in sheep and bloat in cattle, bull breeding soundness, fodder beet use on sheep and beef farms, drench resistance, and ectoparasites in sheep. “I knew early in my career that it was important to help answer some of these questions as a way to contribute to the vet profession and to New Zealand agriculture.” Like any profession, with the joys and highlights come the challenges. Anthony says being on call is a real tie of the job that most people don’t appreciate. He adds that the veterinary profession provides a far better after hours emergency service than the human health system in rural areas. Drench resistance is an area of his work where he openly admits he does not always have the answers, and the veterinary profession has changed its message several times over the last 40 years on the best way to manage it. “Now we are dealing with farms on a daily basis that have Trichostrongylus worms that are resistant to triple combination drenches – there is no scientific research to draw on to tell us the best way to manage these situations, so we are having to work with farmers using the best of the knowledge and tools available to navigate through this time.” Anthony’s career has included teaching final year vet students at Massey University, postings in Piopio in Waitomo and Gisborne, and further abroad he practised in the United Kingdom for a year and worked one month as a voluntary vet in Morocco.


Outdoor adventures certainly featured during his travels, one stand out was a month of trekking through the Himalayas. His initial two year stint in Taihape “on the way back to the South Island” has turned into a 16 year permanent stay. It’s no surprise that Anthony has a full plate. Where most would see his commitment to adventure racing as an inconvenience, Anthony sees it as a method of keeping everything level. A ruptured knee ligament in 2006 put a halt to competing in the Coast to Coast and other multisport events. Eight years later a bet with a mate resulted in Anthony taking on IRONMAN Taupo on virtually no training. Apparently it wasn’t pretty but he did finish. This was the start of the competing again and in 2015 the GODZone bug hit. His team, consisting of two other men and one woman, took top podium spot in their first attempt at the ‘Pursuit’ race in the Tasman region, and backed this up with a successful title defence in 2016 in Queenstown. A racing highlight was their win in Queenstown. Their good lead was diminished on the penultimate stage due to some bad navigation calls. Coming into the final transition they thought they’d blown it, only to find they still had the lead but by only 30 minutes. “The last stage was a 50km kayak up Lake Wakatipu – the race had taken about three and a half days, and we won by 15 minutes.” In 2017 they accepted the challenge of the GODZone ‘Pure’ race in Fiordland, which is a slightly longer course that does not allow for support crews. They learned intimately the brutality of that pocket of New Zealand wilderness. “The longest stage took us 84 hours. The last trekking stage was only 21 kilometres but took us about 24. It was tough going but we had some amazing scenery.”

Anthony loves the long length of GODZone, being in the wilderness for up to a week. “The longer the race, the less it is about pure speed and athleticism, and more it is about strategy, navigation, sleep deprivation and suffering – which suits me just fine.” He says GODZone can throw up a lot of situations. You can be tired, buggered, hungry, cold, lost, have broken equipment, and that’s just for starters. It is really easy to fall apart individually and even easier to fall apart as a team, especially if your navigator has had you trekking up the wrong valley for three hours and you have to turn back. “You and the team need to keep it together. In these situations you just control the controllables – eat more food, put on some more clothes, and get moving the right direction as quickly as possible. You can’t dwell on any negatives, I always just say ‘it is what it is’ and just get on with it.”

Anthony says like most, he’s time poor. He knows people must ask why a time poor person takes up adventure racing. His approach is straight forward. He makes as much of his time as possible through quality time. The training he squeezes in is done flat out, as hard as he can go. His theory is to train at a pace much harder than race pace, so his body will find the racing relatively easy and will therefore be able to just keep going – “although you won’t find this training regime in any books.” “I try to take this concept of quality time into the other aspects of my life – whether it be family, work or farming, it’s about not sweating the small stuff, having simple systems and trying to make sure that the time is getting the best output possible.”

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Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On
Vet Farmer and Athlete | With Belles On