Mortgage the fountain of youth

A lifetime in farming has not put a Horowhenua couple off expanding and developing their business operations. By Russell Priest. Photos by Brad Hanson.

In Livestock21 Minutes

A lifetime in farming has not put a Horowhenua couple off expanding and developing their business operations. By Russell Priest. Photos by Brad Hanson.

At the ages of 77 and 74 respectively, Shannon farming identities Gilbert and Diana Timms are still relishing the challenge of investing in significant pieces of land.

Gilbert was planning on having a party when he reached 80 and was mortgage free, however he says he’ll have to live to 96 to achieve this now.

“Having a mortgage keeps you young and I’ve no intention of retiring,” he says. “We both get up in the morning looking forward to a day’s work.”

The Timms’ most recently bought 80 hectares of easy country in the foothills of the Tararua Ranges about 25km south-west of Palmerston North for $2.3 million.

“When I applied to my bank manager for a loan to buy the place she didn’t even come out to look at it. She said if I could service the loan it was a no-brainer because it would work in so well with our hill block,” Gilbert says.

It adjoins their 591ha (486ha effective) hill block lying between the Tokomaru and Mangahao Rivers, bought in partnership with son Craig 12 years ago for $1.3 million. The partnership property required considerable work to bring it up to scratch as it had been leased out.

“I told Craig when we bought it that I would look after the stock for the first five years, but here I am 12 years later still looking after the stock.”

Diana and her Hereford cows and calves.

As a fencing contractor, Craig’s expertise has been invaluable on the hill block, in particular establishing a laneway from front to back.

“We were lucky buying the fence posts,” Gilbert says. “A vineyard had gone broke near Hastings so we took two trucks and a up there and returned with a thousand 2.4 metre posts costing $3 each.”

Gilbert describes the low-fertility greywacke-based country as the toughest hill country in the lower North Island, only capable of running 5-6.25 su/ha. Infestations of porina also present an ongoing challenge.

Having negotiated the extremely steep, inhospitable west-facing hills one is treated unexpectedly to a 60ha easy-contoured basin which rises from 370m to the highest point on the farm. Much of this is cultivable however it’s a bleak place in the winter receiving the odd fall of snow and exposed to winds from all directions.

“If the farm hadn’t had this basin we wouldn’t have been interested in buying it,” Gilbert says.

Bought by tender from the Ryder family who had farmed it for 102 years, the farm contour is predominantly steep except for the basin country and some associated medium hills. The Ryder family were acquainted with the Timms and were keen for the block to continue being farmed.

When the Timms took possession in August the farm had to be mustered by the new owners to get tallies and decide which stock to keep. 

The animals were in light condition with the ewe hoggets averaging 34kg. They decided to buy the Romney ewes and Angus cows but passed on the ewe hoggets because of their size.

Having sold all their home-bred Cheviot and Perendale rams  the Timms were forced to mate their newly acquired Romney ewes with their home-bred Romney rams. For the following three years the Romney ewes were mated to the Timms’ Cheviot rams and their female progeny then mated to Perendale rams. 

Ewe hoggets in shearing competition

Last year the Timms’ commercial Perendale ewe hoggets off the hill block were used for the Levin shearing competition indicating how quickly the quality of their commercial sheep had improved.

Although the new 80ha block is wet as a result of the runoff from the hill block it complements it extremely well.

“We used to progressively sell our cryptorchid lambs store in Feilding starting with the first sale of the year and having to accept what the market offered. Our cull ewe lambs were also sold store but later in the summer/autumn. Now we fatten a lot of them on the new block getting them to 20-21kg by March/April,” Gilbert says.

The 200 cast-for-age five- and six-year ewes were previously sold off the hills for what Gilbert described as ‘bugger all money” but are now retained and mated to Southdown and Doofer terminal sires.

“We get some unbelievable lambs out of them,” Diana says.

The hill block supports 1500 Perendale ewes plus 400 replacement hoggets as well as 80 Hereford Angus breeding cows. Only yearling and R2 cattle are run on the finishing block.

The Angus breeding cows were small and in poor condition which was reflected in their price of $450 (going rate for cows at the time was $700-$800).

“They had been worked with dogs and were absolutely mad,” Gilbert says.

Crossing these with their homebred Hereford bulls with an occasional backcross to a Willie Phillip’s Angus bull has resulted in large, quiet, predominantly whitehead cows.

Last year the Timms made $857 for their weaner steers in April and $1040 for their 320kg cull heifers in early October.

The role of the cow herd is to maintain pasture quality for other stock and to clean up any roughage that has accumulated over the summer and autumn post-weaning. Over winter they are set stocked lightly until late August when they go onto their calving paddocks which have been shut up for three months. The stocking rate is one cow to 0.8ha.

Calving problems and cow losses are rare with no metabolic problems experienced.

Bull-out date is December 1 with two bulls being run with one mob and a single bull with another giving a ratio of bulls to cows of 1:20-25.

“We’ve got plenty of bull power so we don’t skimp on bulls,” Gilbert says.

“We also shut up paddocks for mating. You’ve always got to be thinking ahead in farming.”

Since taking over the hill block the quality of the stock and their health has improved immensely.

“Our ewe death rate is about 3% and this year between set stocking for lambing and docking we’ve only lost 28 ewes out of 1600,” Gilbert says.

Gilbert attributes his low incidence of animal health problems to his dicalcic-based fertiliser from Te Awamutu-based TerraCare Fertilisers. This is applied aerially in March at 250kg/ha.They have been using this fertiliser for many years with good results. 

“We can’t afford to fertilise the whole farm each year so we concentrate on those areas where we believe we will get the best response. Those areas that miss out one year will get done the next,” Gilbert says.

Facial eczema a threat

Animal health issues that do cause concern are internal parasites, particularly Barbers Pole worms. Ewes receive a long-acting drench before lambing while lambs are drenched at docking, weaning and thereafter monthly until June/July when they get a Startech Exit drench. Two drenches 10 days apart in the autumn deal with any sudden rise in Barber’s pole worm numbers.

Facial eczema is a threat in the summer/autumn although the Timms have seen few clinical cases in their stock. Gilbert believes his use of lime-based fertiliser helps to keep spore counts down.

“We’ve lived with eczema all our lives so I’m always conscious of it and take precautions with our ram hoggets by feeding them on long pasture, crops or sprayed paddocks.”.

Gilbert has considered breeding eczema-tolerant sheep. He says there are no eczema-tolerant breeding programmes being conducted in NZ for the Cheviots and the three meat breeds they run.  He can’t buy any eczema-tolerant rams for these breeds. 

His grandson Corey was keen to start breeding for it and he would fully support him. 

The original hill block Romneys have been replaced with Gilbert’s beloved Perendales as the mobility, production and easy-care nature of this breed suit the predominantly steep hill country.

They aim for 120%, normally docking between 110-114%, however storms during lambing can be devastating.

It is late country so the Perendale rams don’t go out until April 8 for three cycles. However with more finishing country available Gilbert may put Perendales out for two cycles and terminals for the third. The intention is to plant finishing swards like chicory/plantain and clover on the new block to get their lambs away earlier or to take them on to bigger weights.

Much of the basin area on the hill block is cultivable so swede and kale crops (5-6ha a year) have been sown as part of a pasture renewal programme and used to winter the hoggets.

The ewes are mob-stocked during mating and over the winter (this year in two mobs) before being set stocked (2.5 ewes/ha for twins and 3/ha for singles) three weeks before lambing. If feed is tight, ewes are set stocked earlier. Scanning is early July followed by pre-lamb crutching in mid-August when all ewes are given a long-acting drench. Immediately before set stocking they are vaccinated with 5-in-1 containing vitamin B12.

Scanning identifies the multiple and single bearing ewes as well as the late lambers. These are lambed separately to avoid delays at docking. 

Twin-bearing ewes get the north-facing lambing paddocks while single-bearing ewes lamb on the steeper, more exposed paddocks.

Docking takes place in the satellite yards in the basin area with the laneway system enabling easy movement of stock. This same system is invaluable in moving mobs of ewes and lambs down the steep west-facing hill country to the bottom yards for weaning and shearing at the end of December. Both ewes and lambs are shorn with the male lambs weaned on to the new 80ha block and the ewe lambs left on their mothers in the lambing paddocks.

Two weeks later the ewes and their ewe lambs are mustered into the satellite yards and weaned.

“The ewe lambs have to return to the hills anyway so it’s easier for them to go back there with their mothers and they settle down better when weaned onto paddocks where they were born”.

Gilbert is a fan of condition scoring but doesn’t weigh any of their mature stock because he believes it can be misleading.

“I’ve been condition scoring all my life on the drafting gate and whenever the ewes are in the yards the lighter ones are pulled off and given extra feed.”.

Keeping a detailed diary has been an important part of Gilbert’s life so he’s bemused when he receives an account for $1200 for his grandson Corey’s use of the Farm IQ software package.

“I record all that stuff in my diary and it costs me nothing.”.

A breeding legacy

The Timms family are avid breeders of stud stock. Gilbert has been breeding Cheviots for 55 years and Perendales for 50. Diana was brought up on a 97ha farm near Levin where her mother farmed 400 stud Southdown ewes which Diana subsequently took over. 

The stud is now in the hands of her 30-year-old grandson Corey who farms Diana’s home block. Diana also has a small Romney stud and runs a 65-cow Hereford cattle stud on their 109ha home block, sourcing her sires from the Robbies’ Otapawa stud at Tiraumea. She later purchased and amalgamated these with cows from the Laws’ Hereford stud. Corey has bought a few of her cows carrying on the family tradition.

Diana sells 25-30 yearling bulls a year mainly to dairy farmers for $2000 which Gilbert says is too cheap so will be going up next year. When selecting herd sires she focuses strongly on temperament, fineness of shoulder and head and the direct calving ease EBV.

Gilbert also breeds Poll Dorset and Doofer (stands for “do for anything”) rams, the latter a terminal sire resulting from crossing extremely long Suffolk rams over Cheviot ewes.

Gilbert sells about 164 Perendale, Cheviot, Poll Dorset and Doofer rams between $600 and $750.  Numbers will increase next year to 200 due to demand for Cheviots for hogget mating and terminals on the back of a much improved schedule. 

Corey sells about 36 Southdowns rams a year.

Last year one of Gilberts’ Perendale rams was judged to be the best Perendale at the Gore annual ram sale. It later sold for $5500.

The Timms have been showing sheep for 60 years with Gilbert clocking up 60 years of stewardship with the sheep section of the Horowhenua AP&I. Gilbert is a life member of the Perendale and Cheviot breed societies and was awarded a QSM for services to agriculture and the community in 2017.

Gilbert was born in 1944 near Pongaroa but the family moved to a farm at Tapuae in the northern Manawatu in 1946 then Levin in 1953 because of his father’s ill-health. While at secondary school Gilbert took on a contract fencing job at one pound and 10 shillings a chain.

He left school at 15 and at 17 went to work for Peredale breeder David Law who farmed a hill country block south of where Gilbert and Diana live today. This block stretches from some easier country up into the Tararua Ranges and is of similar contour and altitude to the blocks the Timms own.

David introduced Gilbert to Peredales, selling him 10 aged ewes in 1971 which became the foundation females of the Ashby Perendale stud. David allowed him to run up to 100 ewes as well as a small Cheviot stud which Gilbert had also acquired..

“We used to go and have cups of tea with Sir Geoffrey Peren at Massey University,” Gilbert says.

He worked for the Laws until he was 40, breaking in horses, shepherding, fencing and shearing. He married Diana, David’s niece, and together they leased land around the area while Gilbert worked for the Laws.

At the weekends he would shear and fence which helped the couple buy a 21ha block near Shannon in 1977 and pay it off in five years.

In 1984 the Timms bought their easy-contoured 93ha home block. A 16ha block across the road was added in 1989. While Gilbert continued to lease land, shear and fence Diana established a dairy farm on their home block milking 100 Jersey cows by herself for 19 years. The couple have leased Diana’s 80ha family farm since 1985,where grandson Corey runs his stud Southdowns and Herefords.

Gilbert and Diana have four children; Vicky (55), Carol (51), Craig (50), and Jill (46) and eight grand-children all of whom live within a 16km radius of the home farm.

The Timms are immensely proud of the recent arrival of the fourth generation of the family (a son to Corey and Kylie). 

“We’ll have to wait a year or two before he starts working on the farm,” Gilbert says.