On an East Coast station, Rob and Karen Newman are using Friesian bulls to get the best production from their land. Russell Priest reports.

Maximising hectare production while keeping a close eye on costs is what ex-Gisborne Farmers of the Year Rob and Karen Newman’s business is all about.

“That’s one thing about farming,” English-born Karen says, “you’re always learning and tweaking things to improve performance.”

And with a large development programme near completion and a new block of land they’re now expecting to achieve an EFS well north of $1000 per effective hectare Rob (43) and Karen (45) farm two blocks; a 620ha sheep breeding and bull-beef finishing farm (Tiniroto Station) dissected by the road from Wairoa to Gisborne in the heart of Tiniroto and a recently bought (December 2017) 380ha lamb wintering and finishing block near Wairoa called Claremont.

Contour on Tiniroto Station is 80% easy/rolling and 20% medium hill. Finishing bulls occupy the easier country and breeding ewes and replacements the hills. Sheep are seldom if ever run on the bull unit.The station ranges in altitude from 300 to 550 metres above sea level, can be very cold in the winter with the occasional fall of snow and has an annual rainfall of 1800mm to 2000mm. In spite of this, grass grows most of the year, however pugging damage can be an issue in wet winters. The farm is regarded as summer safe.

The predominantly clay soils are covered with a layer of ash which is particularly deficient in potash and sulphur but also requires regular dressings of phosphate.

Mount Whakapunaki to the immediate east of the station dominates the local landscape and has a major influence on the weather by channelling southerlies on to the farm. Claremont has 35ha of alluvial flats, 215ha of rolling country (ash over mudstone) and 130ha of medium hills covered in more recent ash. It will be used primarily for finishing all homebred lambs and wintering bought-in store lambs for finishing in the spring but may also be used to grow out store bulls for finishing on Tiniroto.

The 35ha of flats is planted in plantain and clover and designated for finishing.

This year Rob is hoping to finish 2000 of their homebred lambs and at least 6000 store lambs bought in the February to June period. Claremont’s winters are warmer and summers drier than Tiniroto so the farms complement each other well.

Black and whites the powerhouse

Friesian and Friesian-cross bulls are the powerhouse of the business with about 1100 being killed this year. In the autumn about 550 R2 bulls are bought locally at about 370-380kg liveweight (LW) along with 300 R1 bulls from the South Island under contract at 200kg LW.

The Newmans prefer to buy the young bulls in the autumn because getting a 100kg weaner bull through the summer can be a managerial challenge and they prefer to leave that to someone else and concentrate on finishing.

Rob says they’re buying more of the younger bulls nowadays because they generate a greater profit a hectare, are easier to get in large numbers and do less pugging damage in the winter.

The new arrivals all receive a quarantine drench, a 5-in-1 vaccination and a lice pour-on. The R2 bulls are drafted into weight groups with the heavier ones going into the cell system and the lighter ones on to the hills. There they clean up roughage ahead of the ewes until space becomes available in the cells. Each cell group stays together through to processing.

They used to be wintered in the groups in which they were bought to avoid having to mix mobs. However, this created management problems at slaughter because bull weights were so variable they couldn’t kill the whole cell mob at once. This meant they were forced to mix the underweight ones from different cells leading to fighting injuries.

R1 bulls on arrival are subject to the same health treatments as the older bulls before being divided into weight groups and put into cells. The Newmans initially tried wintering them at 3/ha however they quickly learnt this was too high and have reduced this to 2.7/ha. This is lifted to 3/ha in the spring. Older bulls are stocked at 2.1/ha in the winter and 2.7/ha in the spring.

“One thing we’ve learnt with the young bulls is that if you want to kill them at good weights by the following autumn you have to keep them growing well during the winter,” Karen says.

The Newmans aim to have them growing at a minimum of 0.8kg/day and the R2 bulls at 0.5kg/day throughout the winter.

The rolling country (300ha) is divided into roughly 2ha paddocks (cells) by single-wire permanent electric fences and is rotationally grazed all year round. In the winter these 2ha cells are divided in half by temporary electric fences allowing the rotation length to be extended. During periods of wet weather cells in the wetter areas are sometimes bypassed and returned to at a later date when they are drier.

The time spent in each cell depends on the weight gain required. Karen says the residuals left behind after grazing a cell give them a rough idea what the bulls’ weight gain will be.

Pastures are composed of predominantly ryegrass and clover. The Newmans are reluctant to plant some of the higher-octane species like plantain and chicory because of the damage bulls would cause and they don’t want to be renewing pastures regularly. Bloat is never a problem.

At no time are any two mobs of bulls running alongside one another so fighting is minimised.

Bull weighing is performed only at critical times to establish whether growth targets are being met. One of these is at the end of winter when the bulls also get a drench. They are only drenched three times a year; in the autumn, winter and spring.

Karen says they are gradually building up a growth profile on the bulls allowing them to draw up a killing schedule and negotiate forward contracts with processing companies.

The Newmans aim to kill most of the bigger bulls before Christmas at about 330kg CW and most of the younger bulls by the end of the autumn at about 280kg CW. Any that are not killed are over wintered.

Both groups of bulls are expected to generate an average minimum buy-in margin of $600 a head. Over the last five years the bulls have generated an average EFS/SSU of $136.

The second-class citizens

The 1600 ewes are assigned to 320ha of the steeper country on Tiniroto. Initially the flock was bred to Highlander rams, then to Perendales and for the last seven years rams from Manawatu breeder Forbes Cameron have been used.

“They’re a compact sheep, are very fertile and are great mothers,” Rob says.

“We normally dock in the late 140% from a 180-190% scanning but this year we’re down to 130 due to the southerly storm that hit the area.”

All two-tooths are mated to terminal sires (Sufftex from the Paki Iti Stud) because the resulting hybrid vigour produces an earlier lamb.

Rams go out with two-tooths and mixed-age ewes for 42 days from April 10.

Triplet-bearing ewes are taken out at scanning and given more feed. In August when pasture covers are at their lowest they have first dibs on the swede/turnip crop before the main mob of ewes.

The crop enables lambing covers of 1250kg DM/ha minimum to be built up. Ewes are rotationally grazed all year round except when they are suckling lambs.

Now that the Newmans have Claremont they hope to be able to have the ewes in better condition throughout the year.

“We’ll wean the lambs at least two weeks earlier at an average age of 75 days and truck the males to Claremont which will take some pressure of the ewes,” Rob says.

Hoggets (550) go to the ram (a selection of their male contemporaries) on May 1 for two cycles. Normally those that conceive achieve a 100% lambing from a scanning percentage of 120. There are usually 100 dries.

Any dry ewes and hoggets are killed.

The reason the Newtons mate their hoggets to their male contemporaries is to minimise the birth weight of the hogget lambs. The theory being that since this technically represents inbreeding the effect of hybrid vigour on birth weight is minimised.

Selection of ewe hoggets for mating is not only based on a 40kg cut-off weight but also on type, structure and wool soundness.

Romney ram selection is on type, soundness, overall growth, fertility/fecundity and to some extent survivability. Terminal rams are selected for soundness and growth.

Lambs are killed at Ovation and through Atkins Ranch at an average weight of 20kg (homebreds) and 22kg (trading) but aims to get the latter up to 23kg. Rob believes he will average $180 for his 6000 lambs killed this year.

The Newmans’ EFS/SSU last year was $316 boosted by the 4000 trading lambs killed. Over the last five years this figure has averaged $151.

Cropping to develop

For the past five years the Newmans have been developing 110ha of rolling country from run-out pasture across the road from their home block. Rob estimates the pasture was only growing 6000kg DM/yr while the developed area is growing twice this amount. This programme, which has been strongly focused on encouraging clover growth through species complementarity, has allowed the bull finishing operation to be expanded.

Demand for grass by livestock in early spring prevented pasture being taken out for swedes/turnips so later spring establishment was tried. This failed due to a combination of weeds, insect damage and lack of moisture. The Newmans were then forced into sowing the winter crops in February which meant halving their yields but significantly reducing their costs. The programme will be finished when the last 16ha is developed last month (February) and regrassed next spring.

Pasture species sown have been a late flowering ryegrass, Kotare white clover, red clover and on the drier north westerly faces cocksfoot and sub clover. Rob estimates the development cost to be about $1500/ha.

Tiniroto Station has been owned by the Newmans for 14 years and Rob and Karen have been there for 12 of these.

Rob was raised on a mixed farm along with two other brothers on the outskirts of Gisborne. After leaving school he attended Massey for a brief period, studying for a B.Ag. before getting itchy feet and heading to the United Kingdom for two years. There he worked for a large hay contractor, did some fencing, drove trucks and met Karen.

On returning to New Zealand both worked long hours, Karen as a vet nurse and Rob driving cultivation equipment for LeaderBrand before being enticed back to the farm by his father. An opportunity then came up for Rob to manage Tiniroto Station for a couple of years so he took it.

“To be honest when I first went to Tiniroto I was still finding my feet,” Rob said.

“I knew I wanted to go farming but I didn’t know what sort of farming but after being there for two years I knew this was for me.”

Rob and Karen are both actively involved with the running of the farms with each having a team of dogs. They along with their two children Ellie 13 and Spenser 12 have come to love the area and its people.

Two full-time staff are employed. Their skills and hard work contribute immensely to the success of the business and are greatly appreciated by Rob and Karen.


  • Owners Rob and Karen Newman.
  • Ex Gisborne Farmers of the Year.
  • Tiniroto Station 43km north east of Wairoa.
  • A 620ha bull beef finishing and sheep breeding unit.
  • R1 and R2 bulls are finished in cell system.
  • Expects a buy-in margin of at least $600.
  • Claremont a 380ha lamb wintering and finishing farm near Wairoa.
  • Finishes all home-grown and bought-in lambs at 22kg.
  • Average lamb return last season was $180.
  • Stock numbers at 30/6/18:
  • 715 R2 Friesian bulls
  • 453 R1 Friesian bulls
  • 1164 mixed-age ewes
  • 450 two-tooth ewes
  • 4000 trading lambs
  • 18 sire rams