Techno grazing making good sense

Brothers Mack and Toby Lynn run Wakelins Station in Northland, confident in their decision making and happy to learn from their mistakes.

In Livestock18 Minutes

By Glenys Christian.

Mack Lynn credits his father Murray with being on the right track with subdivision before he and his brother Toby took up Techo-grazing in Northland.

“We were strip grazing mountains,” Mack says. “Dad was accurately rationing feed and not back-grazing.”

But that involved carrying a lot of standards and tapes around, “and in the spring all our good work was undone”.

So it was up to the sons to take the next step on the 550 hectare family farm just out of Paihia, which they lease.

“It made perfect sense,” Mack, 34, says. “Techno-grazing is very numbers driven and a powerful tool. By May 1 you’ve got your plan nutted out and you know what’s in front of you.”

For the last couple of years, two metres of rainfall, mostly in winter, has been the norm, but feed can be limited in spring. With Techno – which paid for its setup costs in its first year – when grass grows, they can manage it.

“You’re not guessing whether the cattle have enough grass today and if they will have enough tomorrow. You can visualise it and see it all laid out in front of you.”

While they own an ATV-towed dry matter calculator, Mack wonders whether they now need it.

“Often our limiting factor is sunlight in spring.”

They treat their grass cover like a solar panel, with the bigger area of leaf the better. Mack says grass grows grass.

“That’s the management power of Techno – it allows you to manipulate those factors.”

Mack was a stock agent in the Waikato for five years after missing out on being accepted on Massey University’s vet course. He came back to a family farm after his father injured his back for what was supposed to be a short stint. Meanwhile Toby, now 38, was a professional rugby player for the Chiefs and the Western Force from 2004 to 2012.

They first put Techno into place in 2014 on a 300ha farm leased from the family at Matauri Bay on Northland’s east coast, which Mack describes as “a blank canvas with no fences”.

Denis O’Callaghan, an early adopter of Techno, had a run-off next door and invited the brothers to have a look at what he was doing. From the outside they couldn’t recognise how powerful a tool it was, but when they understood it more, they did the numbers and put 220ha into Techno.

“It’s an incredibly flexible system,” Mack says.“You can be in fifth gear and going flat out, or in first and just cruise.”

But he cautions that getting the design right is all-important with the risk of big inaccuracies coming in later on.

The farm was bought in 2017 and sold in 2021 after it had to be completely destocked when Mycoplasma bovis was found there.

The family bought Wakelins Station in 2013 and Mack and Toby started leasing it in 2016. It had been a Landcorp farm running a range of exotic livestock back in the 1990s, including Boer goats, Santa Gertrudis cattle and deer. But “the powerhouse” is about 1000 Friesian bulls. These were bought in at 100kg from Waikato saleyards in November or December and sold a year later at between 300–350kg.

“Then it was rinse and repeat,” Mack says.

A profitable option

But after dipping their toes in the water with calf rearing from 2016, which was incredibly challenging, they found it a more profitable option. About 1500 calves a year are reared as a way of getting the product they want, with more substantial rumen development. Mack and Toby’s mother Lynda is in charge here, helped by her nephew Kahu Harkness and local teenagers.

The calves come from Waikato in batches of 600, as recommended by local vet Jorrit Verver.

“He revolutionised our approach to calf rearing,” Mack says. “It’s a very challenging model we’ve developed, but necessary for the situation we face.”

Scarcity of whole milk means they use milk powder from day one, costing about $150 a calf. They introduce meal from the calves’ first day through until they’re 12 weeks old, another $80/head cost.

“Something as simple as access to a source of dry bedding can be an issue. Then there’s the unholy trinity of rotovirus, crypto and salmonella. Every year it seems there’s something new, but once you’ve dealt with it it’s not so scary.”

Theileria isn’t an issue in the four-day-olds they bring in.

They’re drenched about once a month and the brothers are now smarter about integrating other stock classes to keep on top of the worm challenge, with 400–500 breeding cows also run under a Techno system.

“Because it’s very wet land, there were concerns that there’d be too much stock pressure and they’d make a big mess,” Mack says.

“We held our breath, but the Techno allows us to control cattle behaviour and pasture height and quality in wet periods, greatly limiting damage in wet periods. The quantifiable nature of Techno allows you to easily identify poorer producing areas or stock classes, so if they don’t meet a certain threshold we can go back to the drawing board to look at other options.”

They’ve experimented with almost every stock class and stocking rate, winter round length and have settled on targeting four yearling bulls/ha which allows a target of 400kg/ha to be relatively easily met.

While higher production is definitely achievable, this level is more sustainable.

Both ewes and lambs have been farmed successfully with Techno.

“You’ve just got to have lots of power and make sure they’re not too woolly,” Mack says.

They have 500 ewes that lamb at the beginning of June when there’s usually a good feed supply available. Although the lambing percentage may be low, averaging 125%, the concentration is on lambs weaned per hectare. They also trade lambs through the winter to be sold in August, with the flock controlling worms for the cattle. Their stock agent will buy them in from as far south as Waikato and King Country.

Profitable deer

They also tried the Techno system with their 470 red deer, including 260 velveting stags, but found it wasn’t so applicable.

“With the nature of kikuyu in Northland coupled with the grazing habits of deer, it proved difficult to manage feed in the same way as you would with bulls.”

They initially bought in deer from their brother in law out of Whangarei, and from a local farmer who was retiring.

“It’s the most profitable thing we do and has enabled us to accelerate our learning.”

Toby has put in a number of strip trials of crops such as Raphno, chicory, red clover and Italian ryegrass into the kikuyu-dominant pastures. Most of the pasture renovation happens on the deer farm, targeting early spring growth to promote velvet growth, and the requirement for high-energy feed for lactating hinds through the summer – neither of which kikuyu can meet. Unlike many Northland farmers they don’t mulch it to stop rank growth.

They make silage on a small finger of land that can’t be grazed easily by cattle but is highly fertile. They’ll grow a crop such as oats or make silage for the deer, as feeding silage to their cattle is “an extreme rarity”.

“I don’t like the idea of silage, I’d rather use Techno to manipulate grass cover and carrying capacity,” Mack says.

“Silage doesn’t get better because you put it into a bale. And harvesting it then storing and feeding it out is a lot of work.”

The farm’s pH averages 5.8 and the Olsen P 15–20. They apply 500kg/ha of capital fertiliser made up of phosphate and some form of sulphur, which varies annually. After using a lot of nitrogen in the past they’re now trying to reduce this input as much as they can; not applying any last year, other than for crop establishment.

“We’ve got our own spreader and Toby is on to that.”

Disobedient chickens

Mack has been running 1200 hens for just over a year, housed in two purpose-built “chicken caravans” he bought on Trade Me. The aim was for the birds to clean up pasture after the cattle and to earn income from the sale of eggs to Paihia restaurateurs. But it didn’t go smoothly to start with as the chickens wouldn’t go into their new accommodation, instead swarming outside on their first night.

“After a panicked phone call to a chicken farmer in Australia who assured me my chickens weren’t broken, I realised I’d made a beginner’s mistake,” Mack says.

“We should have started with six chickens in the backyard, but with every venture we’ve started we tend to go a bit hard a bit too soon.

“We learn quickly. Like getting into calf rearing and deer, it was a steep learning curve, but the signs are there of a profitable business.”

About 50ha of forestry planting is planned for the farm this winter on marginal country, and if they don’t reach production targets the trees can be included in the emissions trading scheme (ETS). They’ve also tried manuka, with a friend putting hives on 10ha.

“Financially it was probably a mistake and more for aesthetics, but ethically it’s the right thing to do,” Mack says.

However, with some “mongrel gullies” at the back of the farm there are plans to employ a company to manage the whole process, with no decision made yet on what tree species to plant.

Another interest for Mack is creating a model for share farming using the Techno system, hoping to recreate the magic of sharemilking in the sheep and beef industry. There are 1200ha farmed locally under this structure.

“While it’s early days, signs are positive for us, landowners and the young people share farming. And it would help sheep and beef farms not to go into trees.”

Another plan is to return Wakelins Station to some type of tourism operation as was the case when it was owned by Landcorp. An old goat-shed was converted into a wedding venue, found to be cheaper than a marquee for an on-site wedding. And a cellar door for a local winery is another option being explored.

Mycoplasma bovis

Mycoplasma bovis came on to two farms leased by Mack and Toby Lynn after they bought in 150 calves that had originally come from the South Island. In total, 2500 head of stock had to be slaughtered.

“We had really good people to deal with and some real lemons too,” Mack says.

“We were young guys with lots of debt and a lot on the line. But at meetings we had with the Ministry for Primary Industries, they didn’t ask if you could afford milk in the tea that they were drinking.

“Our business was growing quickly and things were working well until MPI imposed themselves on us. It took a lot of the passion out of it and changed our outlook a lot, which wasn’t all for the bad.”

As fate would have it, the day they found out their stock had M bovis, after a number of cases of pneumonia and pink eye, they were holding a Beef + Lamb field day. Not only did they have to tell their visitors, they then realised some of their stock had gone to five or six other farmers.

“We had to call people and tell them – MPI didn’t.”

There were also issues with inaccurate testing. About 30 bulls Mack knew must have had M bovis were blood-tested three times and each time came back negative.

“But when they were slaughtered they were all positive,” he says.

They had to beg MPI to depopulate their Matauri Bay farm because Toby knew his stock had M bovis.

Other decisions were laughable, such as the brand new calf feeder that MPI decided someone had to come from Christchurch specifically to clean it.

“I knew it hadn’t been used and said that I’d burn it because with it here we still couldn’t restock. It was bureaucracy gone mad. Like most people who went through M bovis, it wasn’t a fun time, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And we’re still here.”


  • Wakelins Station, Paihia, Northland
  • Gross Farm Revenue $2733/ha
  • Farm Working Expenses $1368/ha
  • Effective Farm Surplus $1328/ha
  • Lease family’s 550ha (430ha effective)
  • 1000 bulls run under a Techno-grazing system, taken to 300-350kg LW
  • 400kg+ CW/ha production target
  • 400-500 breeding cows, changes seasonally
  • Up to 1500 calves reared
  • 500 sheep, 460 red deer, including 270 velveting stags and 1200 chickens.