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. •

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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

Time to celebrate the role our primary industries play, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, February 2021.

By Annabelle Latz


Let’s sing the praises of the skills and value of our primary industries, as we do for our New Zealand sports teams.

This is the vision of farm environment consultant Rebecca Hyde, who operates under her own brand TFD Consulting Ltd, which is short for ‘The Farmer’s Daughter.’

Based in Oxford, North Canterbury, she launched her business in 2020. Much of her work week involves talking with farmers about the ever-evolving raft of regulations, a somewhat new and often complex business tier within our traditional ‘Number 8 Wire’ agricultural sector.

Over the past few years health and safety, employment and water regulations, to name a few, have become permanent features on a farmer’s business plan, directed from central government.

“A lot of farmers don’t understand all of it. It’s all come at once,” says Rebecca, the former nutrient management advisor at Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Ravensdown.

Rebecca is not shy to remind farmers that these changes are here to stay.

“The regulations will never stop, and collaboration to grapple these changes, while remembering the ‘people’ element of farming, is a must.”

Rebecca says while there is regulation involved with her business, there is also a large element of best practice.

While some farmers need more critical conversations than others, Rebecca says some don’t get why things have changed, or don’t want things to change.

“My advice is, either make the changes and I can help you, or the next person might not be so nice.”

Born and raised on a sheep and beef farm in Scargill, North Canterbury, farming has always run strong through Rebecca’s veins, and she has never imagined working in any other sector.

“One thing I will always be is a farmer’s daughter. And I really feel privileged to sit down at a farmer’s table and help them now.”

Within her advisory roles, Rebecca has appreciated how in tune she has always been with farmers.

“You just get that mum and dad are trying to get the shearing done, need to get to kids’ sport, will be drafting sheep in the dust, picking up calves in the rain… You just get stuff, and farmers appreciate this.”

What appealed to Rebecca about starting her own business was embracing the challenges, and having that natural instinct of what is happening on the land.

In 2017 Rebecca was awarded a Nuffield Scholarship, which she utilised to investigate globally how collaboration works well between groups in the agricultural sector, and how well New Zealand was doing comparatively.

Her travels took her to 13 different countries including Brazil, India, America, Canada, Denmark and China.

“One of the things that came across really clearly was that most groups saw the bigger picture of working together.”

Rebecca believes New Zealand at the time was not as strong on collaboration, as there was still plenty of segregation between farming industries: dairy, arable, non-irrigation, irrigation, sheep and beef, etc.

But this has changed, and collaborative groups such as the Primary Sector Council and the development of the Red Meat Sector story with Taste Pure Nature are great initiatives that encourage conversation, ideas, and solutions for the primary sector as a whole.

Rebecca cannot emphasise enough the importance of continued collaboration and communication, and the complexity of farming that must be acknowledged.

She talks about the three layers of farming: The ground layer is the physical farm, the middle layer is the farm management system, and the third layer is the people layer.

“And that is what makes a farm unique, the combination of all of them. And farmers must work out where that sweet spot is.”

Time and time again, Rebecca has sat in front of industry ‘experts’ with her fellow farming community.

“Farmers are expected to show up and contribute, but they’re not considered experts. I think that is something that’s really been missed – that people element.

‘One thing I will always be is a farmer’s daughter. And I really feel privileged to sit down at a farmer’s table and help them now.”

Farmers have the data and the systems – they are the people living that land and system. Farmers know their capabilities, their limitations.”

Rebecca admits there is no argument that the pressures on the environment are increasing, which is human-driven. Modern day regulations have put restrictions on farmers being able to make changes on their own farm, at their own discretion. Nowadays a farm environment plan, a nutrient budget, and in some instances, a land use consent, are required.

Rebecca certainly isn’t anti regulations, which she sees as tools for raising the floor, but agrees with farmers they can be confusing.

“Farmers know the practical, and they might not need the practical changes (such as fencing off waterways), but they might just need to know the new regulations.”

Should collaboration and the ‘people’ side of farming continue to flourish, the future of the New Zealand agricultural sector is a bright one.

“Agriculture is a big business in New Zealand, and it creates business minds.”

Rebecca believes good farmers are open to different types of experts; for example dry land farmers farming for moisture and using soil moisture monitors.

She says Covid-19 has really changed how people are looking at their own health, and sees farmers as being a big part of this as food producers.

“I would like to see a future where New Zealanders are proud of what farmers do. Where someone in central Auckland is singing the praises of their New Zealand- grown food, because they are proud of what we can produce, like we are proud of our sports people.”



“I would like to see a future where New Zealanders are proud of what farmers do. Where someone in central Auckland is singing the praises of their New Zealand- grown food, because they are proud of what we can produce, like we are proud of our sports people.”


See the article online here

Time to celebrate the role our primary industries play | With Belles On
Time to celebrate the role our primary industries play | With Belles On

Social Media Highlights Rural Life, New Zealand.

Country Wide Magazine, January 2021.

By Annabelle Latz


Social media is loved and loathed, often simultaneously.

While Instagram is chock-a-block full of everything from stunning landscapes, gym selfies and downward dog yoga poses, fabulous animal photos and warm fuzzy images that remind us that life is pretty cool, there is an increasing presence of rural people doing rural things and celebrating rural life. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll be seeing more and more Swannies and Red Bands, teams of dogs, grubby four-wheel-drives, stag country and remote huts. Filters and air brushing will be at a minimum. It’s true-blue Kiwi life in the form of high country getaways, studs, day-to-day farm life, and hunters out in the back blocks exploring promising scrub.

Mainland Gatherers is an Instagram page featuring two hearty blokes we’ll call Puka and Terry. Based in Canterbury, they’ve got a good few years hunting under their belts and figured social media were a great way to keep current what they do and share how much they love it, particularly for the sake of their daughters.

“Our wives actually set it up. It was primarily to show our kids what we got up to before they were old enough to tag along.”

They have two young daughters each. They describe Instagram as an “awesome tool” that has allowed more inclusion of their children in their adventures.

“Both our four year-olds have caught blue cod and been scouting for deer.” Puka and Terry have been hunting most of their lives – Terry since he tagged along with this father shooting bunnies, while Puka started a bit later in life.

“Puka got seriously into pig hunting and finally came from the dark side over to deer stalking.”

They have also embraced YouTube.

“We decided to do YouTube videos so the kids had a video to watch, rather than other rubbish online. They love it.”

Initially Terry and Puka spent a lot of time on their social media page, as much as an hour a day, which was part and parcel of attending to their growing audience. But then they remembered the reason they set it up in the first place and that was for their kids, not their audience.

“It allows us to capture interesting adventures for the kids to watch and refer back to, even in years to come.”

They’re lucky now to spend an hour a week tending to the page, admitting that more time is needed to keep it sustainable and growing. But such is the way with fulltime jobs and busy family life. Reaping sponsorship is not a goal of theirs through their Instagram exposure.

“We are real and tell it how we are.”

Political incorrectness may feature from time to time, and they like the fact they aren’t restricted and can tell the truth.

“We are not the best hunters by any means, we just enjoy being out in the bush and gathering a feed for our families. That’s our happy spot.”


Tom Small co-manages Blairich Station, a Merino sheep stud up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, belonging to his parents, Ron and Sue Small. He’s been involved in the operation for 11 years, and about five years ago decided to join the social media trend as a way to keep in touch with clients, friends, and other interested parties or businesses with whom they have things in common.

He’s gained his knowledge about best utilising his Instagram and Facebook page from following other pages and posting comments or questions on other posts.

“It’s a good way to share knowledge and ideas.” Tom admits he doesn’t spend enough time using these tools, which can be a bit of a juggle when things are busy on the land. He has certainly seen the direct positive effect that social media have had on the stud business through linking up with international clients.

“We have gained ram sales as well as having export enquiries, which have led to rams going to Argentina. It also helps us to connect with our markets, especially our wool, which is sold to Devold of Norway.”

On a local level Tom says social media platforms are a good way to advertise for staff and allow applicants to learn their way around Blairich Merino Stud passively.

“It’s a big tool for advertising for staff, it’s all I use now. And it’s also good for screening applicants.”

He said keeping things “interesting and frequent” to keep up the engagement with his audience can be hard at times.

“It’s a bit of a guessing game as to what people actually want to see.”

Sharing the daily life of seasonal activities is a focus for Tom.

“To let people know what we are up to, anything that may be informative or if we’ve trialled something and want to let people know how its going, for example, the area of genetics and genetic gains.”

Tom has seen a shift in the use of social media in the farming sector and said it didn’t used to be the promotional tool it is now, and it creates connections that those not using it may be missing out on.

“I would say it’s mainly the younger generation using Instagram and Facebook for their farming business. But some of the most active accounts I follow are from people older than me who use it professionally as a marketing tool.”


In Central Otago, Geoff and Justine Ross and their team use Instagram to share the unique way of life at Lake Hawea Station, (LHS).

Although well accustomed to the ways of marketing, (being the founders of 42BELOW vodka) Geoff and Justine and their two children still go about life much like social media’s not there, and ensure this tool doesn’t distract them from the moments of life in front of them.

“We are also not naturally too concerned about what others are up to – we are more interested in walking to the beat of our own drum.”

They bought LHS in 2018. However, this social media platform quickly became a wonderful way to connect intermittently with the rural (often very remote) communities both in New Zealand and overseas, and those in sectors related to their production of fibre and meat. Instagram offers them a way to “take the temperature of the sector” on any given day, and to see what stories are resonating.

“The information economy is powerful, as our sector macro trend is about clients wanting to connect to the source of their fibre and wool.”

They said Instagram is an answer to this, providing three key components. It enables people to see quickly what they’re up to and engage in “day to day chat”.

Through posts and stories on Instagram, LHS’s brand values can be scanned as well as well as the interests and engagement patterns with partners.

This means viewers can do primary research into what LHS is about before looking deeper and going onto their website.

“We decided to do YouTube videos so the kids had a video to watch, rather than other rubbish online. They love it.”


See the article online here

Social media highlights rural life | With Belles On
Social media highlights rural life | With Belles On

Hooked on Dog Trialing. New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, January 2021.

A North Canterbury dog trialist is the latest in three generations in the sport. Annabelle Latz reports.


Nicky Thompson uses her grandad Lou’s dog trialing stick, it’s a curly tea tree stick which once had a vine growing up it. Lou’s friend put a handle on it.

Born and raised on Northland’s East Coast at Mangawhai Heads, Nicky moved to the South Island 15 years ago, and now calls North Canterbury home. As an eight year-old Nicky was gifted her first Huntaway by her dad. Her name was Dice and everywhere Nicky went, she went. Dice was bred to Lou’s Huntaway which is where Nicky’s dad Roddy’s dog “Wag” came from.

“The first time I ever ran a dog was at Hobson just out of Dargaville, when I was about 16 years old with my heading bitch ‘Betty.’ After yarding my sheep it’s fair to say I was hooked on dog trials,” Nicky says.

Later that season she had her first open win at Papakura in the long head, followed by a third the following week, qualifying her for the South Island and New Zealand champs in Lowburn, Central Otago. Roddy was judging a Hunt event at Hobson and also ran his heading dog Kip in both Heading events.

“I remember grandad being there watching, he loved it. He’d ring up every week to see how we went, or read the results in the paper.”

Lou is 97 and lives with his wife Wylma near Bayleys Beach in Northland (appeared in Country-Wide May 2020). Nicky has always acknowledged the beauty of having three generations of dog trialists in the family, and loves the fact that grandad Lou is still out training his own pups. In fact, Lou has put his Heading bitch to one of Roddy’s dogs, the litter is due at Christmas, and Lou will keep one pup to train.

“Lou had a hip replacement a couple of years ago which helps keep him out and about on his 41-hectare coastal farm.”

 In 2019 both Nicky and Roddy were competing at the New Zealand Champs in Kaikohe, so Lou and Wylma drove there for the day to see the action.

“Everyone always told me how awesome it was to have grandad around, and that he won’t be around forever. But I think he’s growing younger,” smiles Nicky, “he’s pretty special.”

Nicky has been judging for five years, seeing it as an opportunity to learn and “put a bit back into our sport.” She runs six dogs, and has Tommy Rocket, her Fox Terrier.

“The last couple of years have been really busy with work, securing a lease block and doing casual work in the North Canterbury area. The quality of my team has deteriorated which I find really frustrating but I’m really determined to get a nice capable team of dogs back…. Sentimental value got in the way, I kept some old dogs longer than I should have!”

Nicky’s standout dog to date was her Huntaway Base, who she broke in herself.

“At one stage I had three Open dogs, which was a good challenge. They were all so different to work so it was no walk in the park.”

Nicky has fond memories of her childhood amongst dogs and great people.

“I was a really homesick kid so was the old man’s shadow in school holidays and weekends, with my dog and pony.”

The South Island struck a chord with Nicky and in 2005, she landed herself a job at Nokomai Station in northern Southland. She says dog trialing is one of the few sports where it doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, young or old. Although it’s not a team sport, you’re all friends at the end of the day.

“Dog trialing, it’s a great leveller. You can win one week and lose next week.”

Nicky’s message to fellow dog trialists is similar to that she’s learned from Lou.

“Get into it and give it all you’ve got. It’s like anything – the more time you put into your dogs the more you get out of them.” Lou says it’s great to see Nicky enjoying the sport so much, a seed that was sowed long ago.

“I’m very proud of her.”

Both Roddy and Nicky took a shine to the Huntaways early in their careers; Lou remembers Roddy always taking a Huntaway when he had to shift some sheep.

“Huntaways get very good, they’re quite brainy,” says Lou, remembering his standout dog Lad.

Roddy, a contract musterer, has recently moved back to Northland with his wife Janice. Lou enjoys watching him train his dogs, and has had many quality dogs in his career and been in many runoffs. Lou admits he would have liked to have done more dog trialing over the years, but work got in the way a fair bit, although he still spent plenty of time training dogs and competing in local Northland competitions.

“We couldn’t travel all over the country like they do now!” he laughs.

Lou is happy to pass his knowledge, which hasn’t changed much over the years.

“Get good pups, and make sure your dogs cast well and fall nice – aim for 12 o’clock. And don’t use erratic dogs, make sure they go up around the top, and not too close.”

Roddy never really got into dog trialing until his late twenties, but started training dogs in his teens on the farm Lou was working at on the Pouto Peninsula. The Zig Zag and Straight Hunt are his judging areas for dog trialing, and he agrees with Lou he’s always been about Huntaways. Dog trailing is all the better for having Nicky there alongside him.

“Right from when she was a kid, all she wanted was a dog and a horse.”

His 32 years of judging under his belt has created wonderful memories. “In some places you get way out into the boon docks in the back of Taranaki, and you get there and there is a fantastic community.”

Roddy has a team of six dogs, three of which he competes with; two Huntaways Tone and Doug, and a heading dog Bruce. He’s lining up his first competition at the end of January, and hopefully then down to Greenvale in Southland for Nationals. He’s in awe of his dad who’s still training dogs.

“That’s the beauty of it, there’s no danger in it. I hope I’ll still be training them when I’m 97. I just say develop the strong points of your dog, and the weak points will look after themselves.”


“I remember grandad being there watching, he loved it. He’d ring up every week to see how we went, or read the results in the paper.”

See the article online here

Hooked on Dog Trialing | With Belles On
Hooked on Dog Trialing | With Belles On

A whole new wilderness

Country Wide Magazine, December 2020.

By Annabelle Latz

It was smoko time for Shaun Monk up at Island Hills Station.

He was taking a five minute break from his chain sawing work, lying on his back on the hiking trail he was in the middle of cutting.

“I looked up into the beech trees and saw the territorial battle of a bellbird versus a tui. Although he was much smaller, the bellbird won, puffing his chest up to make himself bigger. It was so cool to watch.”

There are so many reasons Kiwis love exploring their own backyard, and for Shaun, getting close to nature is just one of them.

Turn the clock back to May, the end of lockdown was around the corner, and up at Island Hills Station in North Canterbury the ideas cogs were turning. Shaun Monk would be one of the first to admit his pocket suffered due to Covid-19, with no guided hunting right through the heavily booked red stag roar. But this downtime also provided a chance to think about the future.

Owners of Island Hills Station Dan and Mandy Shand used to run a very successful hiking business on their farm called Hurunui High Country Track. After a bit of discussion over a cup of tea in late autumn they collectively decided a rebirth of this venture was a great idea. Thus, Island Hills Station walking track was born.

GPS tracking, utilising trails already there set by wildlife, scrub-cutting and being on the end of the chainsaw has been a familiar way of life on and off for a couple of years for Shaun as he was establishing trails for a guided hunting business. But since May and the plan for the revamped walking track, it’s been full noise.

“I figured, I might as well go for it, put all resources into it. Go balls in.”

Island Hills Station is 7000 hectares, of which half is low-input extensive sheep and beef farming, the remainder being non-grazed reserve, including Canterbury’s biggest parcel of QE11 Covenant at 600ha. Shaun, originally from the West Coast, came out to Island Hills Station several years ago for a visit to do some hunting and recreation.

“It was so diverse, around every corner was a new hidden gem, a new gully, or grassy knob.”

The walking track opened in October, the self-guided two or three day hike taking in the rolling hills of the farmland, and the conservation land boasting forests of regenerating beech and manuka, filled with the sounds of bell birds and an increasing number of other native species.

“I’ve seen tui, Tom tit, fantail, wax eye, wood pigeon, bush robin, morepork, kakariki….. shall I continue?”

He says over the past several years there’s been a noticeable increase in bird numbers. Bush Hut and The Valley Camp are the two well equipped huts on the track, with hikers arriving on the evening pre departure and enjoying a night at the Cook House down by the homestead. The trails are well marked and achievable for anyone with a keen spirit for adventure and a few kilometres of walking under their belt. It’s technical enough to make it feel like a real back country adventure, yet still allows for a sense of relaxation, especially when all of your gear is carted to the huts for you.

“The track definitely has some challenges, but we will focus on ensuring it is safe.”

Mount Skedaddle stands at 1700m and those keen for an extra few kilometres are more than welcome to ask Shaun for a guided hike to its summit.

“I want to keep the guided off-trail options open too, there is always someone keen for an extra challenge.”

The close presence of history is hard to miss. Track markers including names like Upham allow the mind to cast a thought to who once graced this land.

“And that trail over there,” Shaun says, pointing to a well worn grassy trail near the base of the Organ Mountain lying to the west, “was a well used packhorse track from the northern part of the South Island through to the West Coast before the Lewis Pass road was built.”

Even on the worst weather day, life is not too bad up at Island Hills Station. Shaun says the Nor’West trickles over bringing a bit of wind, but not too much rain.

“It’s very forgiving here, it would be a very rare occurrence that a booking will be cancelled due to the weather.”

The keen conservationist will enjoy hunting guiding in the cooler months when the trails are closed.

“I was sitting sharpening my chainsaw a few weeks ago at Organ Creek when I heard some sloshing in the water. I looked up and saw four deer, who just all stopped a few meters away and looked at me. They paused, then walked away. It was such a nice encounter.”

The long term goal is to up the predator control efforts on the farm to the point where introducing endangered birds could become possible.

“Imagine having kiwi roaming around here, I’d love to see that in my lifetime.” Shaun said it was a lot of hard work and he and his helpers were going “hell for leather” to get it done.

“I still haven’t seen every part of this place yet. It’s such a cool farm to explore, and it excites me to show this to people.”

“It was so diverse, around every corner was a new hidden gem, a new gully, or grassy knob.”


See the article online here

A whole new wilderness | With Belles On
Too little | With Belles On

Is it too little, too late for tahr? New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

By Annabelle Latz


Positive discussions have taken place between the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Game Animal Council (GAC) regarding the current aerial tahr control programme, resulting in changes to control work outside Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks.

In July, DOC was ordered by the High Court to undertake only 125 aerial control hours of the proposed 250 hours under the Tahr Control Operational Plan for 2020/21 before undertaking further consultation. DOC was also requested to analyse oral and written submissions from stakeholders involved in the Tahr Plan Implementation Liaison Group (TPILG), before making its decision and releasing its final Operational Plan. 

The TPILG includes representatives from the hunting sector, Ngai Tahu, ecology, conservation, research, high country farmers, tramping fraternity, meat processing industry, and government bodies.

The management of Himalayan tahr is governed by DOC’s statutory plan, the Himalayan Thar Control Plan 1993, that stipulates the tahr population is to be monitored and limited in their South Island range which includes Aoraki/Mt Cook and Westland/Te Poutini National Parks. In total, this area is 706,000ha, divided up into seven tahr management units. 

On September 1 DOC announced the distribution of its remaining 125 hours outside the national parks would remain largely as per the original plan. 

The tahr hunting sector remained disappointed and concerned that DOC’s estimated population numbers were too high, population research was out of date, and aerial control was being targeted to the wrong areas thus effectively eliminating the tahr population for hunters in some places. 

“It’s really sad, as there’s so much common ground between stakeholders with 90% of the recent submissions all on the same page,” said Tahr Foundation spokesperson Willie Duley.

On September 8 DOC met with the Game Animal Council (GAC) to discuss where the remaining 77 hours of control work outside the two national parks would be undertaken. Following plenty of discussion, it was agreed to reallocate some of the control hours to target less accessible areas of the feral range, and keep the more accessible areas for hunters. 

“We are reducing our previously planned control hours within the South Rakaia and Upper Rangitata management unit which is favoured by hunters,” DOC’s Operational Director Dr Ben Reddiex said. 

DOC agreed to avoid popular hunting spots and huts, focus on controlling high densities of tahr within terrain that is less suitable for ground hunting. It would leave identifiable male tahr for hunters outside of the national parks’ management unit, improve hunter access by extending the popular tahr ballot. The latest control data is regularly updated on DOC’s website.

GAC general manager Tim Gale was satisfied with the result of the discussions, and this is what the tahr hunting sector wanted all along – an open discussion and to have all the information on the table.

“Everyone has always agreed that tahr do need managing, it’s about how much, how many tahr, by whom, and where. It’s about the quantum of control.”

GAC mapped out areas and suggested places where recreational hunters were unable to access and official control should target, as opposed to ballot landing sites and really popular hunting areas.

“It was a two-way, free and frank discussion about the pros and cons of the current allocation of hours within the Management Units, and the merits of reallocating hours,” Gale said.

The outcome was positive, which now means DOC is still getting the tahr control they wanted, and the tahr hunting sector can continue to hunt in the popular and accessible areas.

Gale said the potential risk lies in the coming year, the drop in breeding due to the number of juveniles and nannies that have been targeted by recent control programmes. 

“The bulls will start to die of natural mortality, or get shot, and with reduced recruitment, the population may just fall off the cliff in some places.”

In mid October DOC held a meeting with the TPILG to discuss a Research and Monitoring Strategy in order to help identify priorities for tahr research and monitoring. 

“There are questions we need to be asking in the research. How many tahr the habitat can handle, how many tahr and what types of tahr hunters need to have a good experience. It’s about tahr population impacts and ecology, understanding hunting, knowing how many bulls there are compared to nannies and what will happen with future herd structure. Also, how this research takes place, when, and who does it,” Gale said before the meeting.

Duley sees very little concession, as the same amount of culling hours still stand and DOC continues to target the highly prized bull tahr in national parks.

He is also nervous about the damage being done to the tahr herd structure by DOC’s annihilation of the breeding nanny population as well as the juveniles, of which 50% will be males.

“We will see the real damage in the years to come, there won’t be those young bull replacements and as soon as the old bulls die off, there will be some massive age gaps. This won’t help when the tourist hunters come back looking for a trophy bull.”

Duley says it’s a case of ‘too little too late’ for DOC’s decision to back out early from some of the management units and they should have listened to the industry’s advice on where culling was needed from the word go. 

“We’re on the ground, we know the tahr hot spots but they ignored us”.

“They have already culled those units in round one, so the damage is already done. It’s only logical that they would now focus on the more inaccessible areas with higher populations. It’s just really sad, this whole process could have been managed so much better by DOC, without all the conflict. I’m deeply concerned about what future lies ahead for the tahr and all hunting communities around the country”

James Cagney, Professional Hunting Guides Association president, says the $103 million commercial hunting industry must be protected. 

At least 95% of those hunters are from outside our borders, and of that, 82% are from the United States.

Cagney adds that 20% of that international market is tahr driven, as NZ is the only readily accessible tahr hunting destination in the world. Hunters capitalise on this, usually hunting for red stags too.

If the tahr hunting option was removed, hunters would most likely choose a destination closer to their own homes to hunt for red stags.

“The big factor with tahr is they are a really big drawcard for overseas hunters. The value of the tahr herd to the hunting industry is greater than the revenue generated by tahr.”

Cagney is concerned DOC is launching into the culling programme without pausing to assess the numbers of tahr currently out there. 

“We have a male-bias herd, the proposed culling could reduce the breeding population to as low as 2000 females.”

He says in the last three years more than 18,000 tahr have been killed, and DOC’s failure to pause and assess numbers has caused genuine fear amongst the hunting community.

“The 1993 Plan talks about a number of 10,000, but wasn’t hard and fast. It’s time to pause, do some monitoring, establish where the herd is currently, and propose what the population will look like afterwards.”

Cagney explains the required research really has two basic stages. The first is to establish how many there are, get a gauge of the demographic and male/female densities. The second is getting into the nuts and bolts, scientifically assessing the impact on vegetation and how many tahr specific areas can sustain. 

“The hunting sector values our biodiversity just as much as the conservationists do. But we believe with science and proper management, we can have positive outcomes for both.”


Pendulum needs to swing back

The Himalayan Tahr Plan from 1993 sits on the shelf in Dr David Norton’s office in the Forestry Department at the University of Canterbury gathering dust.

“I say to my students, there is no point creating something that is going to sit on the shelf and gather dust, it has to be something you reference and use regularly.”

Norton is a Professor in Ecology and Conservation Biology, and someone who has been knocking around in the mountains for the past 40-odd years, and also an expert on forest and alpine systems, and holds a thorough understanding of the partnership between land users, hunters, and the environment. 

As herbivores and mob animals, tahr eat grasses, herbs, shrubs, tussocks, forest seedlings, and in turn can change tall tussock grassland to short tussock grassland.

“They also eat large palatable herbs, and enjoy soft palatable food like buttercups, including the Mt Cook Buttercup.”

“Population density should have been managed over the years since the plan was written in 1993, and vegetation monitoring plots measured regularly, and DOC should have been working with hunters the whole time, but these things haven’t happened.”

Norton shares Gale’s view that there has been some really good progress recently between DOC and stakeholders, but these conversations need to lead to further change. 

“I guess my hope and wish is that the communication between DOC and GAC evolves into the development of a new version of the tahr control plan and to its ongoing implementation. I really believe that only through true collaboration will we be able to get a sustainable solution that meets both conservation and hunter interests.”

Norton was left feeling more optimistic after recent conversations with DOC, but it is always a worry of his when politics gets in the way of sensible resource management decision making.

“The pendulum needs to swing back again. We all need to sit down together and work out how to move forward with managing tahr in a collaborative manner.”

He acknowledges DOC has not had the funding to put their required resources into the plan, but the two fundamental problems of lack of tahr population management and lack of communication needs to be sorted out. 

“The blame doesn’t lie with any one community. But there needs to be a rational discussion about how many animals are out there and what their impacts are at different densities and in different areas, so let’s get some good science in there, and figure out a sustainable management solution together.”



‘Everyone has always agreed that tahr do need managing, it’s about how much, how many tahr, by whom, and where. It’s about the quantum of control.’

See the article online here

Too little | With Belles On
Too little | With Belles On
Too little | With Belles On

Screaming out for strong marketing, New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

Marketing, targets and research is what the New Zealand strong wool industry needs for it to become the fibre of choice, rather than synthetics. 

Rick Orr of Red Oak Stud says this has been the industry’s downfall.

“The biggest problem is that we do nothing to add value to the strong wool industry. We don’t process anything here. Wool factories are closing down, but we need to make more products here.”

Red Oak Stud has been in the Orr family since 1923, and Rick and his wife Deb have been farming Romneys since 1989.

This Romney ram breeding venture began in Wanganui, where they would sell up to 400 rams a year.

During the 1990s, together with a group of clients, they would send hundreds of bales of wool to Hunters in Scotland for tweed jackets and other strong wool products.

“We were getting a good premium.”

At the time they were undertaking plenty of wool research through PGG and WRONZ.

“We learned that the highest bulk with the lowest variation was the best option for carpet.” 

During these times there were 72 million sheep running around NZ, the United States carpet market used one percent NZ half bred wool.

“If they had used 2%, New Zealand would not have been able to produce enough.”

In 2001 The Orr family moved the stud down to Weka Pass in North Canterbury, where they run a 2100-hectare Romney and Angus stud with their son Ash. 

Rick says the North Canterbury dry summers are restrictive on performance, and there is certainly no money in buying in feed. 

They could run twice the stock in Wanganui, but had to learn to adjust. 

“We probably pushed the envelope a bit here as North Islanders when we first moved. But it’s hard when you have 30-year-old genetics and capital stock you don’t want to get rid of.”

Although Rick admits the land is a bit “too good for Merinos” they do now cross Merino rams over their Romney ewes, to try and add value and reduce the microns. 

They began cross breeding five years ago, more seriously in the last three years, because crossbred wool was performing so poorly. 

Nowadays, there’s about 17 million sheep in NZ, and strong wool is just about irrelevant.

“To shear a sheep, you pretty much pay a bill. You’re getting between $1-$2/kg, it’s absolute shit.”

They used to shear every six months, but have now opted for every eight months due to cost.

“The cost to shear is $5-$6, if you are getting $2/kg for the wool you have to get 3kg just to pay the bill. So assuming halfbreds perform well, and we can maintain the good attributes of the Romney, we will be better off. In a few years’ time, more than half the flock could be a half-bred base.”

What is interesting is that a 19-micron Merino ram over a 35-micron Romney ewe will breed progeny with a 22-25 micron fleece. 

“A 22-25 micron here, as opposed to a 32-35 micron, is worth $12-$14/kg as opposed to $1-$2/kg.”

Per stock unit, they’re better off by $40 with a halfbred. And breeding a halfbred sheep performing the same lambing-wise, they will be significantly better off.

“Nothing will beat lambing percentage and the meat price, no matter how good your wool is.”

Rick says the strong wool industry needs a marketing model similar to The New Zealand Merino Company; strong wool also needs long term direction and added value markets. 

“We have not so much given up on strong wool, but we are better off doing something we can control. But wool is a unique resource and it is sustainable, that is the big statement here.”

Ash has started taking over the reins of Red Oak Stud, where they also have an Angus breeding programme.

He enjoys the Romney bloodlines, but is nervous about the future of strong wool.

“Because how often do you see a wool advertisement? We have a lack of manufacturers, suppliers and production, so it’s just a vicious cycle. Strong wool farmers have no confidence.”

Ash says it’s time to look beyond clothing and carpet for strong wool. Insulation, cutlery, surf boards, chairs and seat covers are options that need investigation.

“And we need to breed a product that is consistent, and we need to breed to targets so we can plan.”

Ash agrees with his father that it will take some solid education about the sustainability of wool, and some Government direction.

“It would take the Government to say ‘all KiwiBuild houses have to have wool carpet.’ The Government should be saying ‘We want to use this wool product; farmers you produce it and we’ll use it.’” 

As far as the breeding goes, Ash says if NZ strong wool farmers focus on strong bloodlines and solid data, collectively there can be a consistent strong wool product to take into the market.

“Because consumers don’t realise the unique quality resource we’ve got. It deserves continual investigation and time invested, because there are so many great attributes that need smart minds and market research getting behind it.”


‘The biggest problem is that we do nothing to add value to the strong wool industry. We don’t process anything here. Wool factories are closing down, but we need to make more products here.’

See the article online here

Screaming | With Belles On
Screaming | With Belles On

Strong wool, tide may be turning. New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, November 2020.

North Canterbury farmer Chris Earle is among those seeking a better future for strong wool. Annabelle Latz reports.


Thumbing through the old wool prices on the family farm in North Canterbury, Chris Earl sees that in the mid-1980s wool was 60% of his father’s income.

His great grandfather had an article in Waipara’s 1958 Squatter and Settler publication about the cost of wool and shearing.

“It was costing them two fleeces of wool to shear 100 sheep, wool prices were buoyant and shearers were on good money,” Chris says.

In 1989 he and his wife Jane bought 156 hectares in Scargill, and this has grown into a 693ha farm, through subsequent additions and leasing.

They bred Corriedales for a decade, and dabbled with Romneys.

Chris says in the late ‘80s wool prices slipped off the pace a bit, but were still reasonable.

In 2008 they bought Longdowns Stud, which was started in Temuka by Michael and Robyn Talbot with Coopworths in the 1970s, a good all purpose sheep. From the late 1990s the Talbots introduced Texel, then  East Friesian and Finn in small amounts, to increase fertility and milking ability.

This style of sheep allowed the Earls to focus more on carcaseweight and easy lambing, rather than wool production.

‘The writing was on the wall with wool. It was becoming less and less of our income. For the push to survive, we needed faster-growing lambs, and more of them.”

Chris acknowledges that New Zealand has been very innovative in the primary sector space, particularly with regard to our dairy industry and the fine wool industry.

But the strong wool industry has been left behind.

“The point I’m trying to make here, is that as a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.”

He believes NZ strong wool is the best in the world, but between leaving the sheep’s back and landing in the market, there has been a lack of standardisation which has created little vision, direction and confidence in the industry.

More assistance with the marketing of it is needed to create consistent quality, clear expectations from consumers, and a driven focus for producers.

“We’re busy farming, why isn’t the Government stepping in and promoting it?”

With the NZ Wool Board now gone, a marketing gap has been left and needs someone to fill it as there is a lack of a collective voice.

“Especially with the massive global movement of the importance of a green renewable resources. We need less reliance on oil products, and wool is in the perfect position to fill that gap.”

The biggest sellers of wool are the freezing works, which is only going to increase as the cost of shearing gets higher and farmers choose to leave fleeces on when their stock is loaded on to the truck.

Adding to this, lanolin and keratin could both be better utilised as an extra income from shearing.

“Why have we given it away? We don’t get paid a cent for the grease.”

He concedes woollen carpet is never going to be the saviour of the wool industry, or insulation.

“Not when you have synthetics coming into it.”

Thinking about alternative uses for wool such as continence pads, face masks, nappies, and horticultural aids like woollen mats for around trees, is the way the industry needs to be turning.

“There is a lack of general education. People don’t understand the product, some think sheep have to die to get the wool off their backs.”

With the increase in dairy industry and fewer sheep being bred these days, Chris says it would make sense for demand of all wool to be strong.

“But we’re getting under $2/kg. The best we ever got with our wool was close to $5/kg.”

So the best favour strong wool breeders can do themselves at the moment is focus on carcaseweights.

He remembers being a kid, and the Corriedale lambs were light, with wool from their toes to their nose, and barley grass everywhere.

“We’d sit in the catching pen  and be pulling the barley grass out of their eyes.”

Today they strive for less wool, and faster-growing lambs that grade well at heavier weights, and they aim for more of them.

“In the mid-’80s the average lamb was 12.5kg carcaseweight, there was no genetics to grow them out. Today, 18 to 20kg lambs are sold straight off their mum, in the same period of time. This keeps you in the game.”

The Earls did work with a slightly lower micron of 31-32 with their earlier breeds, and they’d cut a 4.5kg fleece. But the yield was 65-70%.

“These girls now cut 3-3.5kg fleeces, with a 34-45 micron, and a yield close to 80%.”

Chris says although it looks half a kilogram difference on paper, the workload and mothering time is a lot less.

“We’re getting less for the wool, but overall it’s better.”

It’s about getting lambs on the ground.

“Because wool is the most inheritable trait you can get on the sheep. Right now, it’s about getting the stuff that pays the bills, sorted.  We can improve the wool quality later, and quickly, when the New Zealand strong wool market comes right.”

But Chris does believe consumers are looking at more sustainable options.

“The tide is turning on synthetic products, you can feel it. If that is going to be the savior, we have the trump card.”


‘As a strong wool industry we have made poor decisions. It’s something that hasn’t happened overnight, but it has been a bit of our own doing.’

See the article online here

Strong Wool | With Belles On
Strong Wool | With Belles On