Developing farms is what enabled Jo and her late husband Trevor Lucas to build equity in their Wairarapa sheep and cattle farming business. Russell Priest reports. Photos by Brad Hanson.

One of Jo and Trevor Lucas’s two sons, Tim, has got the bug for farm development and has taken it to an exciting new level with the acquisition four years ago of a neighbouring 1012-hectare farm (Mamaku) with plenty of scope for improvement.

Their farming business now covers 1984ha (1784ha effective) including three QEII covenants and there’s an air of excitement among the Lucas family and their staff as they embark on another farming adventure.

“Development is so satisfying,” Jo said. “Mamaku is being completely transformed with Tim now taking on his father’s mantle.”

From humble beginnings as lessees (1979-1987) of Wellington Regional Council land between Upper Hutt and Pauatahanui and later Battlehill Farm Park, Jo a teacher at the time and Trevor Lucas managed to scrape together enough money to acquire a 142ha farmlet in the area.

Eighteen months later they sold it, doubling their money giving them the springboard they needed to buy Kenmore, a 486ha farm 22km southeast of Masterton, for $360,000. It was exactly the sort of underdeveloped block they were looking for being covered in scrub and requiring a lot of TLC.

Jo and Trevor were a great team. While Trevor took charge of the development work Jo took charge of the stock.

Jo remembers there were fires everywhere as piles of scrub were burnt after being pushed up into heaps by the bulldozer.

“Tim’s a chip off the old block. He enjoys machinery work as much as his father did,” Jo said, “and he continues to work on machinery whenever he gets the opportunity.”

With most of the development work completed the Lucases began to look for further projects. A 60ha easy-contoured farm (Longridge) five minutes up the road was bought followed by the leasing of the neighbours 619ha block.

Sadly Trevor died in 2005 leaving a huge legacy and a wife and family who were determined to carry that on.

The family’s development work was recognised in 2005 when it won the Wellington Regional Council’s Environmental Award.

When Trevor was alive he and Jo had surrounded themselves with an excellent team of professional advisors, particularly George Murdoch, their financial adviser, so Jo was able to carry on managing the business with their support after Trevor died.

So when the 142ha farm bounding Longridge came on the market Jo had the confidence to buy it at auction giving them a block of 210ha of excellent finishing country.

Looking to expand

Tim returned to the farm in 2010 after completing a BAgCom at Lincoln and spending some time in Australia. In 2016 the family lost the lease on the 619ha block and not wanting to downsize the business they went looking for new ways to expand. The opportunity was waiting at their back door (on their boundary) in the form of a 1012ha development block that had been farmed conservatively for many years.

In June 2016 the Lucases bought “Mamaku” as the farm was known along with the pick of the Perendale ewes and the Angus cows. To top up the numbers, stock from the 619ha lease block were literally walked across the road on to Mamaku.

With the excitement and anticipation of the rewards of development running through his veins Tim threw himself wholeheartedly at the new challenge strongly supported by his mother and the rest of the family.

‘Tim’s a chip off the old block. He enjoys machinery work as much as his father did,” Jo said, “and continues to work on machinery whenever he gets the opportunity.’

Sadly, tragedy struck the family again in 2018, two years into the development project when Nicola and Tim lost their second child, Olive, to a rare genetic disorder.

Mamaku urgently needed fertiliser and subdivision with Olsen P levels ranging between 13 on the front easier country to three on the back country. The average paddock size was about 40ha. One or two paddocks at the back of the farm were over 100ha.

According to Jo, pastures at the back of the farm had a yellow appearance due to low fertility and large areas of some of the easier country were occupied by rushes.

The soils on Mamaku, as they are on Kenmore, are predominantly sedimentary while the prevailing wind comes from the south/south-east. The southerly is the “money” wind according to Tim but can also bring snow and extremely cold conditions.

Tim conceded that the previous owners who were in their seventies when the farm was sold ran the farm extensively. Set stocking was the norm so stock camps were a feature of the farm resulting in significant fertility transfer. The 200ha at the back of Mamaku was the hogget country. The owners employed a stock manager (Shaun Dunbar) and a general hand to run the operation and when the ownership changed Shaun stayed with the farm.

“Shaun has been invaluable because he brought with him so much knowledge associated with Mamaku,” Tim said.

Tim maintained that while the management of the farm may have worked for the previous owners he could not afford nor wanted to continue running it as they had.

Pines an unrealised asset

When Mamaku changed hands it included an unrealised asset of 19ha of 50-year-old pine trees situated mostly in the south-eastern corner of the farm. These were not considered to be accessible by the previous owners however a feasibility study by the Lucases revealed their removal was financially viable if a road capable of taking logging trucks was constructed.

Tim immediately redirected the bulldozer from bulldozing new fence lines to track work and within four weeks (six months after takeover) logging trucks were removing the pine trees. Ten kilometres of road costing $120,000 topped off with lime from a local quarry enabled the trees to be harvested and removed.

“The trees had not been thinned so were that tall it was possible to get three log lengths a tree,” Tim said.

Mamaku’s low soil fertility has been addressed by applying three consecutive years of capital fertiliser in the form of superphoshate at 500kg/ha/yr, 350kg/ha/yr and 250kg/ha/yr to the back, middle and front of the farm respectively.

“The response has been phenomenal,” Jo said. “We’re now just applying a maintenance dressing of 300kg/ha of DAP in the spring.”

The need for sub-divisional fencing gave the Lucases the opportunity to establish a laneway to the back of the farm. In total 37km of fencing involving two post-ramming crews has been erected in two years. Being able to get electricity to the back of the farm using a heavy multi-strand aluminium cable as a lead-out wire has enabled them to erect cost-saving six-wire electric fencing.

“This was a godsend for us,” Tim said “otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to afford the amount of fencing we’ve done.”

Tim commented that there was initially only six ohms of resistance and 9000 volts in the lead-out wire however these figures have since dropped because of additional shorting.

About 250ha of easier country on the south-eastern boundary which included a river was covered in rushes. The area has now been contoured and cultivated as part of the annual cropping programme and much of it returned to highly productive pasture. Fencing off the river, riparian planting and sub-divisional fencing of the area has greatly improved its management. The construction of two large dams was included in this development.

In-lamb ewe hoggets returning to their paddock.

Unproductive areas have been fenced off and planted in pines along with some of the harvested area. Alan Pankhurst, the multi-skilled bulldozer-come-digger-come-tractor-driver and fencer has been kept busy cleaning out old dams (30) on Mamaku and forming new ones (30) as part of the development programme.

Production transformed

Four years after acquisition Mamaku has been transformed and is well on the way to joining Kenmore and Longridge as being a highly productive farm.

The Lucas empire has a number of different income streams from breeding and finishing lambs to trading Friesian bulls and carry-over cows to breeding Angus weaners.

The primary focus of the business is their sheep breeding and lamb-finishing operation. Last mating 9300 ewes went to the ram including twotooths as well as 3400 hoggets.

The Lucases used composite rams up until five years ago when they switched to using Wairere and Wai-iti Romneys.

Mating begins on March 1 with 1600 one-year ewes going to Dorset Down rams for 50 days followed by 2000 (B flock) Perendale (ex Mamaku ewes) and low fertility Androvaxed Romney ewes on March 10, 2500 MA Romney ewes to Romney rams on March 15 and 3200 two tooth Romneys to similar rams on March 25.

Any of the Perendale ewes from Mamaku and any ewes that have had singles as twotooths are tagged and vaccinated with Androvax to improve their conception rates. According to Tim it is highly successful showing a 20% scanning advantage over the A flock Romneys.

Hoggets (3400) which have been on young grass and crops on Longridge since weaning and weighing on average 38-40kg are mated to Romney rams on May 1 for a month. They are set stocked on young grass and clover/plantain (P/C) over the winter. Any that are struggling at scanning get preferential treatment. Generally 2200 get in lamb returning a 110% lambing based on hoggets in lamb.

“We used to have a cut-off weight for mating of 40kg however with our high ME feeds we back ourselves to grow our hoggets out well enough to achieve good mating weights as twotooths,” Tim said.

Having weaned their lambs on Longridge the hoggets return to Kenmore as twotooths at a similar weight to their dry contemporaries wintered on Mamaku. Some ewe lambs out of hoggets are themselves mated as hoggets.

This year scanning results for the ewes were back a bit due to the drought at 175% (one-year ewes 185%). Last year’s scanning of 190% resulted in a 150% lambing and 15,000 lambs however Tim concedes it was an exceptional tupping and lambing and is unlikely to be repeated this year.

The business normally kills 95% of their lambs between 16.5-19kg.

“Because we farm in a summer-dry area we don’t aim to achieve high slaughter weights. The lambs are killed when prime and the only reason we can kill such a high percentage is because of the finishing crops we grow,” Tim said.

Pivotal to their lamb finishing programme is the killing of the one-year ewes and the majority of their lambs by the end of November. These have been on stands of P/C since lambing so removing them frees up finishing country allowing Romney lambs to be finished.

Weaning of the Romney lambs starts in the second week of November and continues through to mid-December when all the ewes and remaining lambs are shorn. Ewes are shorn again before scanning in May/June.

Lambs head for processing

As many lambs as possible (normally about 30%) are POM at ANZCO’s plant in Marton resulting in about a unit load a week leaving the farm. Between 6000-7000 lambs are normally killed by Christmas.

The remaining lambs go on to stands of P/C and 100ha of mainly rape (on Kenmore) which has been sown in the early spring. The 3400 replacement ewe lambs go on to high quality feed on Longridge.

After shearing the lighter ewes are identified via the drafting gate, drenched and given preferential treatment. This practice continues throughout the summer whenever ewe mobs are near yards.

Tim doesn’t hesitate to drench ewes if a faecal egg count test indicates one is required. He also does an annual drench reduction test.

“We normally have good springs in Wairarapa so the ewes are usually in excellent condition at weaning,” Tim said.

The good-conditioned ewes are drafted into their mating mobs and enter into their own rotations with the aim being to maintain ewe bodyweight during the summer.

Ewe mobs are shifted daily during the three-cycle mating period with Dorset Down rams being introduced to all A flock mobs for the third cycle. Any ewes that conceive during this cycle go into the B flock.

Ewes continue to be rotated over the winter in their mating mobs.

“We try to finish the winter rotation in the singles paddocks but back our pastures and soil fertility to keep on growing strongly post grazing,” Tim said.


DAP fertiliser (annual maintenance) is applied in the late winter at 300kg/ha to boost the lambing covers and improved ewes’ milk production.

Triplet-bearing ewes are separated at scanning and are set stocked at 8-10/ha depending upon the covers and twins at 10-12.

Left-to-right: Willow, Tim and Nicola Lucas (holding Ash).

“Our best triplet-docking percentage is 230%. However I believe there’s an opportunity to improve our triplet survival rate so this year as a trial we’re going to remove one of the three and hand rear it in a facility in our covered yards,” Tim said.

At the time of writing triplet rearing is going well, under the supervision of Tim’s wife Nicola, children Willow and Ash and Tim’s mother Jo.

Because there are so few single-bearing ewes Tim has difficulty finding paddocks small enough to accommodate them during lambing while also struggling to find enough good country for the increasing number of ewes scanning twins and triplets.

Tim buys their Romney rams from Derek Daniell and the Wallaces and targets SIL’s Maternal Index and more specifically fertility/fecundity and early growth as well as milk as he believes this is a vital component of weaning weight. He likes to buy rams out of high performing old ewes to infuse longevity into the flock. Dorset Down rams are bought from Damien Reynolds’ Puketi stud.

Bulls winter on brassicas

The business winters 450 R1 Friesian bulls on brassicas and balage for three months starting in July. These are bought from a neighbouring dairy farmer as 100kg weaners in November/December and sold store the following October/November at 350-400kg LW. If growth in the spring is exceptional some may be retained and killed. The store margin on these is about $500-$600.

“The beauty of farming bulls is that they are flexible in that you can sell them at any time,” Tim said.

The Lucases have wintered carry-over cows (150) for many years and use them to manicure pastures mainly over the winter and clean up rushes. They do however have to be acclimatised to the hills.

“There used to be a $1000 margin in them, however it’s more like $500-$600 nowadays,” Jo said. “They come to us in May as skinny as rakes and do an excellent job for us however if you don’t like paperwork they’re not for you.”

Only Friesian cows that are well marked, are younger than five years and have BWs over 80 are bought mainly from Taranaki through agents. Mated to calve in mid-March and in late winter/early spring the first group leaves the farm in early February.

The Angus cows bought with Mamaku form the base of a herd numbering 220 cows and 60 R2 in-calf heifers. The majority of the latter were bought as yearling from two local Angus studs.

Tim’s aim is to produce good weaners for sale both locally and for the Chinese market.

“It’s a minor part of the business and not a particularly good money spinner however in saying that weaners have been selling well and last year we sold some weaner heifers to China receiving a reasonable premium,” Tim said.

The role of the cow is to clean up pastures in the winter for lambing ewes. A few are calved among ewes and lambs however the majority are set stocked by themselves on saved pasture just before calving then go onto other saved paddocks after calving. Calving begins in late July for the heifers and late August for the cows.

When selecting herd sires Tim targets 200 and 400-day weight EBVs and for heifers, direct calving ease. He would like to increase the size of the cows a little but doesn’t want massive ones.

Cropping allows longer finishing

Cropping is a vital component of the business enabling finishing lambs to be carried deeper into the summer, ewe hoggets to be grown out to good weights for mating and R1 Friesian bulls to be wintered. It’s also an essential part of the development work enabling contouring to be carried out and old run-out pastures converted to high quality finishing and wintering crops and eventually more productive pastures.

The business requires about 120-130ha of crops to be grown for both the spring/summer and the winter periods. All cropping work is carried out by Tim and the staff as is all the spraying.

“Without the crops we’d have to sell 30%-40% of our lambs store,” Tim said.

The main crops sown are Spitfire and Goliath rape followed by P/C in the spring. Poorer grass paddocks are sown in Goliath rape and turnips in the autumn (March) as a winter crop for Friesian bulls and poorer summer crops are replaced by young grass in the autumn.

The rape is grazed up to 10 times by finishing lambs before being closed up. The regrowth, boosted by an autumn dressing of urea is break-fed to bulls during the winter.

“The cropping programme is about identifying poorer producing paddocks and turning them over,” Tim said.

Poplar poles are being planted on Mamaku at the rate of 500 a year at the maximum allowable spacing to capture carbon credits, for soil stabilisation and for stock shelter.

“Dad used to say a happy stock unit’s always a profitable one,” Tim said.

The staff on Kenmore include stock manager Shaun Dunbar, tractor driver/general Alan Pankhurst and Kendyl Hall (shepherd) while Andrew McDowell manages Longridge.

Tim is extremely grateful for their contribution as well as that of his wife Nicola and mother Jo towards making the business the success that it is.


  • Total area 1984ha (1784ha effective)
  • A dynamic family business
  • Specialise in farm development
  • Sheep breeding/ lamb finishing, cattle breeding
  • Carry-over dairy cows and Friesian bulls
  • A summer-dry environment
  • Rely heavily on high energy green feed crops