A southern Hawke’s Bay couple’s farm is renown for its outstanding annual draft of Simmental cross weaner calves, but that’s just one area the couple excel in. Russell Priest reports. Photos by Brad Hanson.

Bounded on one side by State Highway 2 between Woodville and Dannevirke is 398ha Hopelands Farm, owned by Kevin (58) and Shelley (54) Bradley.

Renowned for its outstanding annual draft of Simmental cross weaner calves, Hopelands has the distinction of producing one of the first large lines of beef bull calves to sell at the Feilding weaner fairs.

“We used to sell weaner steers but when a private client asked me to leave 20 of the male calves as bulls as an experiment I obliged.”

He returned the following year and bought them all entire after convincing Kevin not to steer them. The experiment had significantly favoured the bulls. They had grown so much faster than the steers that he was able to kill them at 15 months before Christmas at an average weight of 300kg CW. This meant that all his finishing country was then free for lamb finishing.

When this client changed his farming practices and no longer required the calves, the Bradleys sent them to the March Feilding weaner fair and they have been going there ever since.

Even more notable is that the Hopelands calves are generated in a challenging summer-dry environment without supplements. Comprising predominantly medium-to-steep (highest point 279m above sea level) contoured sandstone-based soils and in the rain shadow of the Ruahine Ranges and subjected to strong westerly winds, Hopelands can be a difficult place to farm. Dry in the summer and wet in the winter, as demonstrated by the large population of rushes, with little easy contoured country and littered with under-runners and a large resident population of porina, it requires skilful management to perform at an acceptable level.

Nevertheless the Bradleys aim at weaning is to consistently produce bulls averaging 270kg (with the top 30% averaging 300kg) and heifers 250kg. This year being an exceptionally growthy spring and early summer, Kevin hopes to significantly exceed these targets.

Behind these impressive production figures is a herd of 135 MA and 25 two-year Hereford Friesian cross cows and heifers mated to Tony and Glenis Thompson’s Glen Anthony Simmental bulls. The Bradleys have been buying their bulls off the Thompsons for 35 years and have nothing but praise for Tony’s breeding skills.

“I select my bulls on soundness, type, size and early growth, for which I use EBVs, however I don’t worry about calving ease because Tony has always bred bulls with good shoulders.”

Polled bulls are not on Kevin’s list of selection criteria because he dehorns all calves in late October when the buds are readily identifiable. He maintains dehorned calves are more saleable, as are red calves as opposed to other coloured ones. For this reason he prefers to buy dark red Simmental bulls.

Up until 2002/2003 the Bradleys used to run an Angus Hereford cross cow herd generated by crisscrossing with Hereford and Angus bulls. Some of the cows were mated to Simmental bulls. One year some Hereford Friesian cross cows were brought in to make up numbers. After producing significantly heavier calves at weaning the decision was made to convert the whole herd to Hereford Friesians.

The Hereford Friesian cross replacement heifers are bought in the autumn as R2s.

“One of the advantages of buying them at this time is that the likelihood of them being accidentally in-calf is very low.”

Kevin has no hesitation in mating these to similar bulls he uses to mate his MA cows. He maintains being able to use the same bull team is a much simpler system than having to buy specialist easy-calving bulls that would be required to mate heifers at 15 months. He seldom has any calving problems and if he does they are caused by calf malpresentation, not calf size.

Eye cancer

Heifer availability is the only downside to his system, and because he likes to select heifers with good eye pigmentation to minimise the incidence of eye cancer, he prefers to buy them privately and not via the saleyards. Last year he bought his replacements as two-year-olds because the severe drought meant he was short of winter feed. They cost him $1000 each.

Bull-out date for the 25 heifers is November 5 and the 135 MA cows November 19, meaning calving starts for the former in mid-August and the latter late August. Five bulls are available for mating, with one kept as a spare in case of an emergency. The mating period is for three cycles, however all females are scanned when the scanner can identify twins and foetuses that have been conceived in the first two cycles. For heifers this date is January 26 and for MA cows February 9. Any female that is scanned as empty is scanned again at the appropriate time to identify those conceiving in the third cycle and any empties.

“For management purposes we try to avoid keeping third-cycle cows and if we don’t, we either works them or sell them in-calf. Any empties are killed.”

Any twin-bearing cows receive special treatment through to calving.

Simmental herd sire.

One of the most significant reasons for wastage in a breeding cow herd is infertility, however Kevin has few dries, with the oldest cow in his herd being 12.

“They’re not as robust as an Angus cow because they don’t have the same amount of fat to draw on, however they’re not too bad.”

After mating MA cows and calves are set-stocked among the lambs over the summer and R3 heifers among the two-tooth ewes.

Once ewe mating has finished all the cows and R3 heifers go into an 80-day winter rotation with the ewes and the R2 heifers, joining the hoggets in a second rotation.

About two weeks before lambing starts the cows are set-stocked among the ewes and fed hay twice a week delivered in small bales on the back of a quad bike. They are brought down closer to home as they start to ‘spring up’ and break-fed on saved pasture.

The first 55ha of pasture in the winter rotation is shut up in late May/early June for the cows pre- and post-calving. After calving the cows, with their tagged calves, are shed out onto saved pasture and fed ad lib.

“There’s nothing like giving cows a good start in the spring so they can milk well, get in calf easily and put condition on, so if it turns dry they can milk it off their backs.”

Because the calving cows and heifers are so quiet Kevin has no hesitation in housing them in the covered yards if the weather is inclement, allowing him to sleep soundly knowing no newborn calf will die due to the weather.

“They lounge around under cover, chewing their cud and look very relaxed,’’ Shelley said.

While there are advantages in running a herd of Hereford Friesian cross cows, Kevin admits mastitis and milk fever can be problematic with the breed. If left untreated even for a short time both can be fatal. The herd is also supplemented with magnesium via water troughs using a slow-release dispenser.

Cows receive annual vaccinations against BVD, Lepto, and rotavirus, and get two jabs of copper, one in the autumn and one pre-calving.

Because Hopelands’ soils are particularly wet in the winter (when a good percentage of the annual 1000mm-1100mm of rain falls), Kevin is reluctant to run too many heavy cattle over this period, which explains why the sheep to cattle ratio is 80:20. Sheep wintered include 2450 Coopworth ewes, 800 Coopworth ewe hoggets, 35 trading lambs, and 25 Coopworth and Southdown rams.

Breed change

A change of breed from Romneys to Coopworths in the late 1990s resulted in a dramatic improvement in lambing percentage.

“We struggled to get 95% lambing with our Romneys, however nowadays the Coopworths are delivering between 140-145%. Fertility-wise they are hard to beat and their mothering ability is unbelievable.”

The move to Coopworths was one of the changes suggested by farm consultant Tony Rhodes of AgFirst when called in by Kevin and his father to remedy their underperforming farming business.

Coopworths rams are sourced from the Teutenbergs’ Hinenui Coopworth stud, the largest such stud in NZ.

“They are bred on summer-dry hill country like ours and have a good level of facial eczema tolerance so it makes sense to get our rams there.”

Kevin made the point that while facial eczema is not an issue on the farm at the moment, with the climate getting warmer it could be a problem in the future.

The $1300 rams are selected from the Teutenbergs’ top bracket on soundness and type, while the maternal index is used as a guide to the rams’ income-generating potential. Kevin drills further into the index, focusing particularly on fertility, weaning weight and survivability, while still paying some attention to wool.

In Hopelands’ summer-dry environment set-stocking is the strategy used to get its relatively large component of breeding stock through this period. Lambs are stocked among the cows and calves, two-tooths among the R3 heifers, and ewes run by themselves.

The four-year ewes are mated early on March 20 to Southdown rams to lamb on August 15. Ewes bearing multiples are lambed on plantain/clover (P/C) and weaned at the end of November and immediately killed when the ewe price is still good. The best of the lambs are also killed or stored on the same day the ewes are killed, depending upon the money being offered. The remaining lambs go onto the P/C to be either finished or sold store.

The rest of the flock is mated to Coopworth rams for two and a half cycles starting on April 17 to lamb on September 12. Southdown rams are used to tail-up for half a cycle.

Any lighter ewes at tupping go in with the four-year ewes on April 17 to be mated by Southdown rams. Ewes with bearings are culled, as are the few wet-dries that reoffend.

“We’ve dabbled in hogget lambing, however in our summer-dry environment we have difficulty getting them back up to weight for mating as two-tooths. In lamb they become another priority mob and we’ve got enough of those.”

At lambing ewe hoggets are run on the toughest country, single-bearing ewes at 11-12/ha on the next toughest, and ewes bearing multiples on the easier/warmer country at 8/ha. Triplet-bearing ewes are identified at scanning and preferentially fed until being mixed with the twin-bearers for lambing.

Kevin still believes it is worthwhile to do a lambing beat and mother-up lambs, which wouldn’t be the case if the ewes were not so obliging in accepting foreign lambs.

“Some days we can still make good wages by saving the odd cast sheep and mothering-up.”

Ewes are shorn with lambs at foot in early November, ewe hoggets in early August and again as two-tooths in mid-March. Coopworth lambs are shorn after being weaned in early/mid December.

“We can’t get enough weight into our Coopworth lambs at weaning so we don’t do a weaning draft.”

Parasite programme

The Bradleys were involved in a national internal parasite monitoring programme run by AgResearch that resulted in them gaining a lot of information about the subject. As a result faecal egg counting (FEC) has become an important part of their drenching programme. Lambs are FECed at least three times a year and ewes at critical times like pre-tupping, pre-set-stocking for lambing, mid-winter, and at docking time. Their drenching programme is based on the results of these counts, which are cultured, revealing the type and percentage of worms present.

Bought by Kevin’s father for a family trust in 1978, Hopelands Farm has only in the last six months passed into Kevin and Shelley’s ownership. The only building included in the original purchase was a woolshed and the land was infested with old-man’s gorse.

Mixed-age Coopworth ewes.

Born on the neighbouring farm, Kevin did his secondary schooling at Tararua College while his father farmed at Alfredton, and after leaving school the family moved back to the Hopelands area after buying Hopelands Farm. Kevin spent the next 20 years working for wages for his father before forming a partnership with him in 1999.

Getting rid of the gorse was a major undertaking made financially easier by the government’s 50/50 subsidy under their land development loan scheme. Initially helicopter spraying was used followed by the use of hand-guns and finally cutting, burning and spraying seedling regrowth. Nowadays only spot-spraying with a knapsack is required.

1997 was a landmark year for Hopelands when Kevin’s father called on the services of AgNZ Ltd farm consultant Tony Rhodes.

“Dad could see that we needed to make changes so he said to me to get alongside Tony and work out what changes were required and we would make them.”

Besides changing the breed of sheep, a large subdivision programme resulting in an increase in the number of paddocks from 25 to 75 was initiated, a stock water reticulation system was established, rotational grazing was introduced, and soil fertility was improved.

Kevin believes subdivision and rotational grazing have improved pasture composition and production significantly.

“We owe a huge debt to Tony for his major contribution to our farming business by getting us out of a hole we were gradually digging for ourselves.”

Soil acidity and low phosphate and sulphur levels had always been an issue on Hopelands, with the pH sitting around 5.3-5.4 (now 6), the Olsen Ps 10-12 (now 17-20), and the sulphate sulphurs 5-7 (now 12-17).

Under the supervision of Tony Rhodes, a basic liming trial was laid out on three sites using 1.25T, 2.5T and 5T/ha as treatments. The limed plots stood out like beacons during a subsequent drought, while worm activity was significantly better in the treatment plots.

“We had difficulty even getting a spade in the ground in the control plots compared with the treatments and the sheep had grazed the limed areas flat to the boards with no seed heads showing, suggesting improved palatability.”

Based on the results 500T lime was applied to Hopelands at 1.25T/ha, resulting in little movement in the pH, however at the heavier rate of 2.5T/ha a significant response was recorded.

Nowadays 2.5T lime/ha is sown when cultivating the 30ha area designated for P/C, with Kevin claiming the clover growth is phenomenal. As finance becomes available 2T/ha of lime is sown on selected hill paddocks elevating the pH to 6.

“Now that I’ve seen the liming results I can’t get the whole farm covered quickly enough.”

Traditionally phosphate and elemental sulphur had been applied in the autumn and Sustain in the early spring. However, a $2000 saving by applying one annual dressing of DAP and sulphur at the rate of 180kg/ha (35kg N, 18kg P and 28kg S a hectare) four weeks before the start of lambing and calving has achieved excellent results.

Hopelands’ steep contour means that only 3.5ha is suitable for making hay and 30ha for cropping. The latter area is in three blocks. A three-year rotation using P/C has enabled the Bradleys to finish 33% of their lambs at an average of 18kg, however controlling weeds has been an ongoing problem in these stands. This is being dealt with by returning the P/C areas temporarily to a ryegrass-based sward and selling all their lambs store.

Soil stability issues are being addressed by annual plantings of 100 Veronese poplar poles through Horizons SLUI programme. These not only provide stock shelter but also reduce the incidence of under-runners.

Included in Hopelands’ 14ha of ineffective area are 10.2ha of 26-year pines due for harvest and 3.8ha of gully that the Bradleys have covenanted with the QEII Trust.

Porina is endemic to the area, meaning the Bradleys are forced to spray the whole farm annually with dimilin insecticide costing $25/ha.

“The first year we were hit we were devastated. Our expected docking percentage was 125% but actual was 101% and the only vegetation left was scotch thistles and dandelions. The effects of this lasted well into the following year.”


  • Hopelands Farm owned by Kevin and Shelley Bradley.
  • Situated on SH2 between Woodville and Dannevirke.
  • 398ha (384ha effective) mostly medium-to-steep contour.
  • Limited easy country for cropping and hay making.
  • Summer-dry and winter-wet.
  • Sheep and cattle breeding and some lamb finishing.
  • Produces outstanding annual lines of Simmental cross weaners.
  • Sheep-to-cattle ratio 80:20.