A family’s farm succession plan led to a young couple managing the operation’s latest acquisition. Cheyenne Nicholson reports.

Driving up the driveway to Nick and Sophie Brown’s house it’s hard to believe they are only a 20-minute drive from Stratford.

Their 470-hectare (effective) farm is nestled in the rugged hills of Huinga just east of Stratford. Their farm is the most recent addition to the Brown family farming operation which has three farms (Rukumoana, Rawhiti and Huinga) totalling 1100ha. Nick’s parents Robert and Jane run the other two farms.

The family bought the farm (Huinga) four years ago as part of his parents’ succession and expansion planning.

“They’ve got three boys and we are all keen on farming,” Nick says.

Nick, 31, spent his childhood on the farm so when he finished school, heading down to Lincoln University to study farm management was a logical next step. After a stint on an intensive finishing farm in Methven where he met Sophie, the two came back to the Taranaki for 18 months before ditching their boots and heading off on their OE.

Some tripping around led them to the land of snow and maple syrup, Canada. Jasper, to be exact, an alpine town in Western Alberta right next to the Rocky Mountains. They landed what they think was “the best and easiest job of our lives” making snow and skiing in their free time. “It was one of the best times in our lives.”

After they finished up the season in Canada the headed down to the United States, hired a van and road tripped around. After months in the snow the pair got back to what they knew and spent a short time WWOOFing on a Wyoming farm that had indoor lambing.

OE completed, they returned home and got married before embarking on their next adventure, managing a 470ha farm.

The farm was originally two separate properties the family merged to create the third property in the family business.

Floods deal to fences

The first few years on the farm were tough. Speech and language therapist Sophie was working in town which meant most of the day-to-day running was up to Nick.

“Like with any farm you move into it takes a while to get things how you like them, and it took some time.”

Their first winter on the farm brought the 2015 floods which did a number on the fencing and pastures, putting a spanner in the works at an important time of year.

“Normally before lambing we set stock, but the floods wiped out kilometres of fencing and pasture, so we had to re-jig things a bit. It was added pressure at a really crucial time.”

The family pulled together to help each other out and it was back to business in no time.

Sheep are the bread and butter of the operation, making up 60% of the livestock with the remaining 40% in cattle.

Historically the family have been avid Romney users.

Nick says Romneys are perfectly suited to the difficult terrain and tend to “bounce back” well. To help build stock numbers on the new farm they bought in a lot of mixed breed sheep.

“With the lot we bought in we used terminal sires over them and all those lambs, about 3100 of them, went to slaughter. We got replacements from the other farms so now we are back to breeding our own and sticking to our Romneys.”

Romney rams are specially selected on soundness of feet, ability to maintain a condition score above 3, high lambing and liveweight weaning. Rams head out to the ewes at the end of March to take advantage of early lambing and stay out for two cycles.

“On this farm we don’t mate hoggets because we have the B mob and they are normally the smaller half sent from Rukumoana. There, we normally put 600-800 hoggets for mating but they must have a liveweight of 40kg or over.”

After lambing about 900 lambs are sent to slaughter straight off the ewes in early December between the three farms.

These lambs will typically be about 18.5kg carcaseweight (CW) with early lambs about 16.5kg. Meanwhile, 1650 lambs are kept as replacements every year across the three farms. A high rainfall means a strict six-monthly shearing policy, usually in December at weaning and May with two-tooths shorn in March. Despite Taranaki generally being a hot spot for facial eczema (FE) and their use of FE-tolerant rams Nick says the disease isn’t so much of a problem as pleurisy is. It appears to be a common issue throughout Taranaki, but the reason remains a mystery.

“It’s been brought up at discussion groups all around the place but there’s no real answer to why the incident rate is so high. We’ve had up to 17% in last season’s kill sheets.”

All ewe lamb replacement get vaccinations for toxoplasmosis and campylobacter with the ewes getting 5-in-1 before set stocking pre-lambing.

Drenching is kept simple, starting at weaning and every month after that until all are finished and off farm by early May.

Nick puts a lot of his success on the animal health front down to keeping all his stock in good condition.

“We probably have room to be more scientific in our approach and when it comes to things like capsules we tend not to bother. I’d rather put our money into getting the grass growing and keeping the stock in good condition.

When they are sitting at a good BCS they tend to be more resilient to ailments,” Nick says.

With the help of vet and Country-Wide columnist Trevor Cook, Nick has got body condition scoring down to his own fine art. They condition score every December at shearing and weaning.

Sheep are sold on the schedule rather than on contract as Nick says they never got much tangible benefit for the extra stress.

Simple cattle policy

The cattle side of the business is kept simple and is mainly made up of dairy grazers and trading cattle.

“With the exception of the dairy grazers we don’t have cows on the farm. This was a practical decision really. We like the trading aspect of having bulls and dairy grazers and it suits our land too.

It’s less work, particularly over what would be the calving period.”

The trading cattle are bought at 380-450kg LW in the autumn, given pour-on upon arrival and set stocked on the hills over winter and gradually finished over the remainder of the year.

Their average finishing weight is 310kg carcaseweight.

In previous years they have dabbled in calf rearing and kept many calves through to finishing, but last season with the arrival of son Sebastian, they decided not to.

Being predominately rugged hillcountry fertilising, pasture renewal and cropping can be tricky across all three of the farms but by combining the information they get from Ravensdown’s Smartmaps and soil testing they have a solid fertiliser plan each year. In total, 900ha is given a 250kg maintenance mix each year via plane with the help of Ravensdown SmartMaps. “We normally target the worst 50- 100ha of hills with capital application of about 550kg/ha with the 200ha of flat or rolling paddocks getting 350kg/ha maintenance via truck each year.”

The flats also get 150kg/ha of urea a year spilt between autumn and late winter with 30% of the hill country getting a dose of nitrogen each year in late winter.

Each year 30-40ha is planted in summer crops, mainly chicory, clover and rape. Paddocks are cropped for two years before being put into ryegrass and white clover.

They don’t cultivate and everything is sown with an airseeder drill.

With limited cultivatable land there are no paddocks shut up specifically for supplement and a limited amount is made each year, mainly for the dairy grazers.

“It’s a whole lot more work for us, we don’t have a high demand for supplements as we are able to grow enough grass year-round most of the time.”

Nick, Sophie and the entire Brown family are keen to continue to diversify their farming business by planting unproductive areas of the farm into natives.

“We really want to keep improving stock water reticulation and subdivision across all three farms as well as develop the infrastructure to a high standard that will make the day-to-day a bit more enjoyable and easier,” Nick says.

“And take more holidays would be nice!”

Aside from the farm Nick is heavily involved in his local Young Farmers club only recently stepping down as chairman and is also the meat and wool chairperson for Federated farmers.

“That sort of stuff is really good mentally. Even though it’s still farmrelated stuff it’s off farm and gives me a chance to clear my head a bit and stops me getting tunnel vision.”


Self-confessed technology geek, Nick admits buying a drone wasn’t so much of a thought-out practical decision as it was an irresponsible impulse buy that “has paid for itself twice over”.

“We were at Mystery Creek field days a few years ago and we saw the drones there. I was keen on looking at one for my blog, Heels 2 boots to get footage and we saw some uses for it onfarm, so $2700 later, we had a drone,” Sophie says.

The drone, a DJI Phantom 4, is like an extra dog (or two!) with added advantage of going where our four-legged companions cannot.

“We use it on hot days to lessen the workload on the dogs. It’s really good for getting sheep off the ridges and checking the valleys for stragglers and strays. Being able to pop up the drone and have a look around during lambing to check for cast sheep is really helpful and a huge time-saver. You can easily see spots that you can’t see from the track,” Nick says.

The drone has sensors on the front that allow it to get close to the sheep but learning how to operate one can take some practise.

“I’ve had a few near misses and bumped a few power lines but so far haven’t crashed it. It can take a while to get used to operating a drone and having good co-ordination is really key.”

Skills learnt playing video games can come in handy on the farm it turns out!

The latest drone released to the industry contains an array of features including the function of barking like a sheep dog. Nick says the next step he’s looking forward to is total automation.

Laws around drone use state that the operator must be within line of sight of the drone if operating it which restricts its capabilities.

“It would be great if we got to a stage where you push a button, the drone sets itself up and flies off for the lambing beat on its own while you do something else. You can set them on an automatic flight path, but you have to be able to see it. That’s the next step I think in this sort of technology.”


  • Owners: Brown family
  • Managers: Nick and Sophie Brown
  • Area: 470ha effective
  • 1700mm rainfall
  • 5000 stock units (60% sheep 40% cattle)
  • Average scanning % over past four years: 170%
  • Average lambing % over past four years: 138%
  • Lambing date: August 20
  • Terrain: Hill country, some flats
  • Breeding, finishing and trading.
  • Summer safe
  • Cropping: Chicory and clover for lambs
  • Olsen p: 15-20
  • EFS: $450/ha (across all three farms)
  • Gross farm income (average across all three farms totalling 1160ha) $1060/ha


Speech and language therapist Sophie didn’t grow up on the land like husband Nick. She’s a born and bred urbanitecome-farmer. She’s using her knowledge of both sides of the rural/urban divide to educate people on farming.

“I had so many questions when I first met Nick and came to the farm. Why is this done like this and how is this done? My view of farming was different because I didn’t know the how or the why behind things and I think that’s where a lot of issues can come up when it comes to how the urban audience view farming, they just don’t know,” Sophie says.

A few years into her new farming life, Sophie was noticing a lot of her friends had the same questions around farming, so she decided to tackle them and created ‘Heels 2 Boots’ page on Facebook which features pictures and videos created to show the how and the why of farming. “I’m not a natural in front of the camera at all. In fact, I hate hearing myself on the recording and often feel silly doing it, but its authentic and I’ve had really good feedback about the videos we’ve done.”

So far, they have made videos on crutching, shearing, scanning, calf rearing and mustering with plans for more in the future. The videos are created using video from the drone which captures the vast and rugged country they farm as well as some spectacular views of Mt Taranaki as well as video from their phones.

“Since we had Seb I haven’t done a lot with it, but we are keen to continue making videos and trying to connect and educate people on what farming is all about.

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