A Romney flock and the country’s oldest Dorset Down flock are features of the Newports’ Tasman farm. Anne Hardie reports.

For the past four years, Daniel and Tarsh Newport have averaged 190% scanning in their ewes by being prepared to take on new challenges and adopt innovative practices early.

They also have learned from their peers and adapted those learnings to their own business and farm system.

The couple farm at Korere, south of Nelson, on farmland Daniel’s forbears carved out of the bush way back in 1869. Today it spreads over 364 hectares (300ha effective) and four years ago they bought the property from family at market rate after leasing it for several years. They renamed the property Dewes Farm, which represents the initials of five generations of Newports farming the land for 151 years.

It has been a stepped pathway to farm ownership, which began with a partnership arrangement with Daniel’s parents, Edwin and Erica, then leasing it while still benefiting from Edwin’s wealth of experience. The process gave them the chance to build up equity in stock before taking the plunge and buying the farm.

Leasing the property also gave them time to learn the seasonal aspects of the business on that particular farm, and time to prove themselves to lending institutions before they took on a hefty mortgage. The bank, accountant and advisers help to make up a “trusted team”, which they have found essential.

Today they run 3000 stock units on the home farm and graze a further 120ha on a hill block nearby. As well as 1800 Romney breeding ewes they run the oldest existing Dorset Down flock in the country – registered as number 13 – with 80 stud ewes producing terminal rams for the business plus stud rams for sale.

Benchmarking the business

The couple are passionate about farming and improving their business, prompting them to benchmark it via the Beef + Lamb New Zealand economic survey, which they say has been a “brilliant” tool. They are also involved with the wider industry, sharing their own experiences to help others achieve. Tarsh has been a strong advocate for the rural community, ensuring different sectors work together, leading to a role as a B+LNZ farmer councillor.

Though wanting to share experiences, they say it is important farmers do not compare their farming operation with their neighbours because no two farms are exactly the same and every business has different objectives.

For them, drought is the one of the biggest battles. They’re typical on the Korere landscape, along with colder winters that delay spring growth. To overcome both those challenges, they have worked out how to use crops and legumes to their advantage as well as tweaking their lambing and weaning dates.

In the past decade or so, lambing percentages on the farm have risen dramatically. They attribute that to using Goliath rape at mating, lucerne through the summer and autumn dry, growing the hoggets out and lambing them as two-tooths, plus moving the lambing date further out to September 12 to match growth. Tarsh says the later lambing achieves the same result as lambing earlier because there’s more feed when the lambing ewes need it.

Trying to get lambs up to weight for the pre-Christmas market has always been a challenge because of the late start to spring, and their earliest lambs coincide with Christmas work closures, shearing, and sowing paddocks. So they don’t even target that market now. Instead they focus on achieving a high lambing percentage, feeding the lambs through summer and keeping condition on the ewes so they can sell culls well, plus take breeding ewes through to tupping in good condition.

Benefits of Goliath Rape and saved pasture

Daniel and Tarsh are now big advocates of Goliath rape after stumbling on it a few years ago when their traditional swede crop was wiped out by accidental spray residue. They sowed the rape as a back-up for winter feed that year and eventually used it for flushing the ewes.

Their lambing percentage lifted by nearly 30% that year, so they planted 15ha of the rape the next year. They now grow 20ha, which gives 1800 ewes about 30 days of good feed from the time the rams go out on April 14.

The crop is planted at the end of December or early January at a rate of 5-6kg/ha and they say that density is important to produce optimum plant foliage for the sheep to graze. Moisture permitting, the crop is ready for stock 70 days later, though without irrigation there are always risks.

“You can grow 10t/ha, but if you don’t get any moisture you’re talking half that amount,” Daniel says. “It’s a fine line to get that paddock back into grass, so we direct sow into that crop with an annual and when that finishes it goes back into permanent pasture.”

“On the flip side of cropping,” Tarsh says, “having a crop in autumn means you’re growing all that feed on the rest of the farm for winter.”

That means no winter crops, which is an advantage environmentally as regulations toughen. Five years ago they were growing 5-10ha of winter crops but that has been replaced by autumn crops and saved pasture for winter.

“It’s the old saying – it takes grass to grow grass,” Daniel says.

Saved pasture will get the pregnant ewes through to lambing with differing management depending on grass and mobs. In the past four years their scanning averaged 190% including Dorset Down, compared with 160% for the previous four years. The lift in scanning results coincides with the time they have been flushing the ewes on rape. The survival rate for lambs last year was about 150% and they think they can lift that by 10-15%.

Teaser rams used for three cycles prior mating consolidates lambing so that 80% occurs from the first cycle. Lambing has been a labour-intensive period in the past with their previous management practices, along with the added task of recording and EID tagging the Dorset Down lambs.

They believe a lambing beat is essential for cast ewes and lambing issues because every animal matters, and also because it is a social responsibility. Lambs that are struggling are picked up as well as mis-mothered lambs, which are mothered onto other ewes if possible. Last year they realised they could manoeuvre through the lambing mobs with less disruption if they left it later in the day.

“We worked out that if we left them alone in the morning and came back later, they were enjoying the sunshine and we could move around easily without interrupting them,” Tarsh says. “So we generally go around when the day warms up a bit. It made it less stressful for us, and the dogs and sheep seemed more settled.”

Daniel and Tarsh Newport on their Tasman farm.

Stocking rate critical

They are working on minimising lamb losses and Tarsh says getting the stocking rate right is critical so that the ewe has enough feed and there’s ample feed for the lambs when they begin eating grass.

“Because as soon as mum hasn’t got enough feed she will start dropping off lambs. Lamb wastage isn’t right for your business so you want every lamb to make it.”

The triplet mob of 400 ewes is given the paddocks where the survival rate has been highest. Shelter belts are fenced off so they still provide shelter but don’t create bedlam in bad weather when many ewes are lambing close together. It’s also why they have learnt “less is better” in the triplet mobs. So far they are achieving a triplet survival rate of up to 226%.

All ewes are given CampyVax, Toxovax and Covexin 10 for protection, and get a pre-tupping mineral drench of LSD with another drench before lambing most years. Shearing takes place mid-pregnancy in July, and legume pastures have helped with overall animal health.

Last year they successfully trialled leaving the tails on the terminal mob, which meant less work for Daniel and Tarsh and there was no check in the lambs’ growth. They think some lambs get arthritis after tailing also, so tails will stay on that mob again this year.

All up, that will be about 1000 Dorset Down cross lambs with tails that will be grazed on the lucerne paddocks. Lambs produce fewer dags on the lucerne and that was part of the decision to leave the tails on.

Lucerne growth is kicking off about the same time lambing gets under way. Lucerne texts and updates from B+LNZ show the farm is generally about a month behind Marlborough, though this year’s early spring warmth was “one out of the box”.

An old irrigation system consisting of sprinklers and pipes is used to irrigate 10ha of the lucerne, and they have plans to upgrade and develop the system further. The farm has been growing lucerne for about 40 years now, beginning with 9ha that was used to set stock the ewes. Now they have 35ha planted and intend to push it out to 50ha to feed ewes with lambs as well as the weaned terminal lambs.

“If you can put weight on those ewes as wel, you get more bang for your buck.”

After four weeks of lambing they box the mob and begin moving them from paddock to paddock of lucerne to enable regrowth behind them. Last year they were shifting 500 ewes with lambs on the lucerne and Tarsh says it didn’t take long before the mob began settling quickly after a shift.

Before they move to the lucerne the ewes are set stocked, with single-lamb ewes stocked at 10su/ha, while those with twins are stocked at 8su/ha and triplets 6su/ha. Stocking rates are increased once they move to rotational grazing on the lucerne.

Having moved the lambing date back a couple of weeks they are now going to bring weaning forward this year. In the past they have weaned at 90 to 100 days and this year they plan to wean the terminal lambs at 70 to 80 days. That means they can quit 400 to 500 ewes earlier, which is in effect a new market for them, and keep the lambs on the Lucerne while the remaining ewes can benefit from earlier weaning.

“If we can get rid of 400 to 500 ewes earlier and not have them on the farm over Christmas, that’s feed for other stock.”

A small number of lambs are sent to the works off mum, with the weaned terminal lambs grazed on the lucerne until they reach slaughter weights about 17-18.5kg. All lambs are gone by winter. The Dorset Down Romney cross lambs generally yield between 53% and 58%, while the Romneys yield between 48-53%. It depends on the season, and the Dorset Down lambs hold on well through dry seasons.

They’re not averse to selling lambs as stores if that’s the way the season goes, or buying in store lambs “if the season is a cracker” and as long as there are good margins in doing that.

They have remained loyal to straight Romneys as a base for the flock and say the breed has been a good performer without adding any other genetics. In the past two years, which have been the driest seasons in years, the Romney flock has scanned 189% and the highest it has scanned with them was 196%.

“We can scan well, lamb well and get the lamb weights,” Tarsh says. “Wool isn’t getting the money it’s worth but we are not going to do anything detrimental to the wool, so we have quite nice wool and we definitely believe wool can come back, and should do.

“This is the first year shearing has been a cost more than the revenue we receive from our wool, but it is an animal health necessity with benefits to stock.”

Paddocks grazed on 30-day rotation

On the lucerne paddocks, Daniel and Tarsh aim for a 30-day rotation with each paddock grazed no more than five to seven days at a time. That allows it to come away again behind the stock and ensure good growth. If there’s any surplus it is cut for silage, while more supplements can be made from the grass that is saved because the sheep are on lucerne.

“If you can run more stock on higher quality feed you can turn the other pastures into supplements,” Daniel says. “We generally like a pit of silage, which is a bit less plastic, but do balage as well.”

Because there are only the two of them on the farm their time is precious and it makes more sense to bring in contractors for silage and balage. Other work such as spraying and direct drilling is also done by contractors, and sometimes ground work if they are struggling for time themselves.

As well as lucerne, they are increasing the diversity of legumes in their paddocks, including sub clovers, partly for nitrogen fixing and also as a self-seeding legume that can be grazed later in summer. To get that under way they plan to direct-drill red clover into the older lucerne stands as a trial to see how it goes.

One of the greatest benefits of both lucerne and rape is that they can keep better condition scores on the sheep throughout the year, and they say that helps everything from tupping to lambing and recovery.

They have 180ha of flats to plant rape, lucerne and cut supplements, with a further 120ha covering medium hill country to the east, which is made up of just nine paddocks, and 60ha of gorse covered ridges. Though their Hereford cattle work well cleaning up tag on the hills, further subdivision is planned and sub clover will be encouraged, to make the hills more productive in a natural way.

To date they calve 100 cows on the flat country and sell all the weaners at the end of March, which is welcome money in the bank. The herd scans 95-100% and on average will calve about 95%.They aim to increase numbers to 120 cows and use them more on the rougher pasture once the hills have more subdivision.

With subdivision, as well as environmental regulations to fence waterways, comes the need for an improved water system to replace the streams and springs that have provided water until now.

“It’s a little daunting because the cost is huge,” Daniel says. “Fencing waterways and water systems will probably be about a quarter of a million. That’s on contract prices.”

While fencing waterways has environmental benefits, they point out it will also create other problems in some areas, such as fire hazards. Long dry grass and weeds is not a good mix with drought-prone regions always wary of fire.

Transforming the gorse block at the top of the farm into productive land is a goal for the future. It’s part of the equation to realise the farm’s full potential, which to date is limited only by capital and legislation.


  • 300 effective hectares plus 120ha grazing
  • 1800 Romney breeding ewes and 80 Dorset Down stud ewes
  • Scanning averaging 190%
  • 100 Hereford breeding cows
  • Goliath rape for flushing ewes, lucerne for summer dry and autumn