An ambitious hydro power, irrigation and stock water project aims to increase efficiency on Hakataramea Station, allowing the Grays to finish weaners sooner and to heavier weights. Lynda Gray reports.

The Grays are in the midst of constructing a multi-million dollar onfarm hydro power, irrigation and stock water system that will pump production at two levels. As well as generating electricity for three homes and the shearers’ quarters, the gravity-fed system will supply water for an expanded and upgraded irrigation development and replace the open water race system with more than 300 troughs.

RotoRainer and k-lines water 130ha, but the new development comprising six storage dams and seven Valley pivots will cover 270ha. Power will be generated from early 2021 and the new irrigation fully operational by the end of the year. It’s taken three years to get to the dam and irrigation construction phase, and it’s been both a stressful and exciting time.

At the heart of the ambitious project is the Gray’s goal of increasing farm efficiency, which in terms of the deer part of the business will mean finishing weaners sooner and to heavier weights.

“We have a short growing season, and we hope that the pivots will start pasture growth earlier. For us the new irrigation is not about intensifying; it’s about having consistent and reliable water to grow out stock earlier and to heavier weights,” Richard says.

The 3000 Red breeding hinds graze the rolling and undeveloped country in the northwest corner of Hakataramea Station. About 1500 are mated to wapiti sires and the progeny are pre-rut weaned. The Red progeny is post-rut weaned in May. All weaners are wintered on fodder beet, rape and grass and about half are finished for the chilled spring market. The rest are finished before their second winter less the 500 retained for the breeding herd.

The Grays are undecided and open-minded about what pasture mixes will be grown under the pivots. At present about one-third of the grazing area is in lucerne and lucerne mixes, which do a good job in feeding stock to prime weights.

Hakataramea Station was one of several South Island farms owned by New Zealand Deer Farms, a South Island corporate agribusiness led by Dunedin entrepreneur Howard Paterson. NZDF was sold off following Paterson’s premature death in 2003. When the Grays bought and moved from Southland to Hakataramea Station in 2008 their intention was to get rid of the deer as neither Barry nor his son Richard Gray had experience of working with them. However, Richard found he liked working with them and built the herd size, which works in well with the sheep and cattle.

Community good

Juliet Gray epitomises the busy woman who gets things done.

Aside from the usual multi-tasking inherent with three primary-aged children she is chairwoman of both the deer industry’s Central Otago Environmental Advance Party and the Hakataramea Sustainability Collective (HSC).

The Grays joined the Advance Party when it was established in 2017.

“There aren’t many deer farmers in the immediate region and our climate fits in with Central Otago so we jumped at the chance to join the group, especially with the focus on the environment,” Juliet says.

The group has spent a lot of time understanding how tools such as Overseer can be used to measure and monitor on-farm emissions. All members are now adept at using and understanding Overseer and have developed a farm environment plan. On-farm visits to member farms have included input from environmental advisors such as Janet Gregory of the Ministry of Primary Industries, and environmental scientist Alison Dewes.

‘We have a short growing season, and we hope that the pivots will start pasture growth earlier.’

“Alison has explained the science behind nitrogen loss, whereas Janet’s been great with lots of practical suggestions on how we can prevent and mitigate run-off.”

The group’s next step is to find out more about practical management and tools that will help reduce a farm’s overall environmental footprint, including onfarm greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, soil losses, and nitrogen leaching.

“We’re wanting to find about feed mixes, management and technology that will help reduce our footprint… there’s a lot to get our heads around.”

The GHG regulations, under which farmers from 2025 will receive a rebate or pay a levy according to their farm’s calculated emissions, has been overlooked by many because of the focus on the Essential Freshwater policy, Juliet says.

“Industry organisations have been good at keeping up with the changes but I wonder if farmers really comprehend what it will mean for them.”

The Hakataramea Sustainability Collective is another group Juliet leads.

The group, with membership across the catchment, was formed in 2017. The group has an ambitious project plan that includes the goals of maintaining water quality, protecting the ecology of the region, managing weeds and pests, and supporting sustainable farming practices. Milestones achieved are the development of a family picnic area using prize money received from winning a radio competition, establishment of a Landcare Trust catchment group, and some well supported farmer field days and community events. There is a lot more the group wants to get under way and this will start to happen with part-time employment of an administrator funded by a Ministry for Primary Industries Community Hub grant.

“We are very excited about this funding and hugely thankful to Janet Gregory and MPI.”


Juliet and Heather Gray won the Food Challenge Award at the 2020 Silver Fern Farms Plate to Pasture Awards. They were the best of six regional finalists in the overall Pasture to Plate Awards, which celebrate suppliers of lamb, beef, venison, and bull beef who consistently supply quality stock and produce food with the consumer front of mind. The pair’s winning creation was a three-part tapas dish of sticky lamb trumpets, a venison mince Vietnamese salad bowl, and beef fillet on ciabatta.

At a glance:

  • Hakataramea Station
  • The Gray families: Barry and Heather; Richard and Juliet and Ben (11), Sophie (9), Phoebe (5).
  • 4000ha of flat to rolling partly irrigated country in Hakataramea Valley.
  • 30,000 stock units comprising 40% deer, 40% sheep and 20% cattle.
  • Sheep, deer and beef cow breeding with most progeny finished to prime weight.