Vertical integration pays dividends

Over five generations the Tylee family has bought blocks of farmland in Northern Wairarapa. These blocks are the cornerstone of a successful vertically integrated livestock business. By Russell Priest. Photos by Brad Hanson.

In Livestock14 Minutes

Over five generations the Tylee family has bought blocks of farmland in Northern Wairarapa. These blocks are the cornerstone of a successful vertically integrated livestock business. By Russell Priest. Photos by Brad Hanson.

IN SPITE OF FARMING ADJACENT TO ONE OF the more notable trout-fishing rivers in the eastern North Island, Lochy Tylee (58) and his son Tom (31) manage to stay focused on what they love doing, farming sheep and cattle.

They are running 16,360su on four farms between the Puketoi Ranges and Mangatainoka, an effective area of 1700ha. They traditionally employed a casual, general person who works across all farms as well as young shepherds who unfortunately tend to be quite mobile.

A head shepherd was due to arrive in June with his young family.

“We’ve now employed someone who we hope will be more permanent,” Lochy says.

The blocks complement one another in contour, temperature and rainfall and proximity to amenities. The Puketoi Range blocks Appin (537ha) and Te Rata (454ha) are higher, steeper and colder, ranging from 300 to 780m asl. They are used primarily for breeding flock replacements and store lambs.The flat/easier contour blocks closer to Mangatainoka, Waima, 434ha (80ha flat) and Kohinui, 300ha, (200ha flat) are used mostly for finishing lambs and steers.

Stock movement between the blocks is always from the hills to Waima and Kohinui.

About 1100, five-year-old ewes from Appin and Te Rata are trucked down to the easier country on Waima where they are mated to Suffolk rams from Gilbert Timms on March 3.

About 1000 B-flock ewes are run on Waima’s higher and steeper country which includes about 500 cull ewe hoggets. The hoggets are moved to Waima in mid-winter and mated the following year as two-tooths to Suffolk-Cheviot cross rams on April 1 along with the other B-flock ewes.

The early lambing ewes usually lamb 125% on Waima and Kohinui.

Most of the terminal lambs off Waima and Kohinui are killed by the end of April at an average of 19kg ($155). About 20% of these are killed off mum at 16-17.5kg. The Romney cryptorchid and cull ewe lambs from the hill blocks are killed off the finishing blocks at 21-22kg ($175) on winter contracts mainly with Anzco but a few with Atkins Ranch.

After weaning in mid-January and shearing in late January/early February the Romney cryptorchids on the hill blocks are set stocked (often in weight-range mobs) on the easier hill country and progressively trucked down to the finishing country on Waima and Kohinui.

“If it’s dry on the finishing blocks we tend to leave the trading lambs on the hills until conditions improve,” Lochy says.

Being able to finish all the stock bred on the hills adds significant value to the business but also makes it independent of the store market.

Lochy says they are usually about $70/head better off by finishing their cull ewe lambs rather than selling store.

They cannot winter enough stock to control the explosive spring growth on the hill blocks. So the Tylees through their stock agent David Wright) buy 450 two-year old mainly Angus steers (430-500kg LW) between August and Christmas. A quarantine drench greets them on arrival.

The steers are set stocked lightly during early winter among the rotating ewes to clean up remaining roughage. The R3 steers are trucked down to Kohinui in August after receiving an abemectin drench, to be break-fed on 40-50ha rape supplemented with balage for six weeks before being set stocked onto pasture previously occupied by winter trade lambs. Progressively killed from November to May as part of the AngusPure programme, the average carcaseweight is close to 400kg and a $600-$800 margin.

Breeding cows were dropped because they needed too much feed even for an October calving so reduced sheep numbers.

Also too many age groups also complicated management.

Lochy says with steers there are at most only two age groups and often only one.

Makuri is a small settlement at the western base of the Puketoi Ranges, 30km southeast of Pahiatua in the Tararua District.

Consisting mainly of limestone these ranges are significantly older than the Ruahines and Tararuas having once been the geographical boundary between the east and west coasts of the North Island.

Wind and snow

The area is renowned for its strong, cold south-easterly winds bringing with them on average three falls of snow a year.

“The wind is so strong on occasions we’re forced to crawl down ridges to avoid being blown over,” Tom says.

They had to pick moments to open gates.

Good coloured wool is one of the few bonuses in this windy environment although generating electricity could be another. Mercury Energy has applied for a consent to build a wind farm in the Puketois. When the wind is not blowing the higher reaches of the farm are often shrouded in mist.

The annual rainfall is about 1500mm. Springs on some of the highest points on Appin provide a plentiful supply of stock water via troughs using three gravity-fed water schemes. Any gorges on the farms likely to be a danger to stock have been fenced off and allowed to regenerate.

All the blocks’ soils are sedimentary-based. Waima has flats next to the Makuri River.

Limestone forms the predominant sediment on the hill blocks above Makuri. Soil tests on Appin show Olsen Ps at 16-18, pHs at 5.6-5.7 and low levels of sulphur. Sulphate sulphur is readily leached out of the plants’ root zone if applied in the autumn so to counter this elemental sulphur blended with super (250kg/ha sulphur super) is applied in the late summer. Soil fertility on the development block (Te Rata) is low.

Survival lamb improved

Until six years ago Perendale composite ewes were run on the hill blocks. Crossed with Ross Humphrey’s thick-skinned Romney rams to improve lamb survival the ewe flock now numbers 5200.

“I think they have better survivability than the composites,” Tom said.

With significant variation in climatic differences on the hill blocks due to altitude and aspect it is not surprising lambing dates vary.

The four-year ewes are mated on April 1 on the lower country on Te Rata.

“One year they docked 145% however the following year after 10 days of continuous rain they docked just 98%,” Lochy said.

Hogget lambing also takes place on Te Rata with Gilbert Timms’ Cheviot rams going out on May 10 at 1:50 for two cycles.

Gradual culling of 3500 ewe lambs over the summer reduces numbers to 2100 of which 400-500 (dry hoggets) go into the B flock on Waima. The cut-off weight for ewe hogget mating is 38kg with teasers being used to stimulate reproductive activity. Normally hoggets produce about 1000 lambs.

“Cheviot rams leave small, vigorous lambs at birth which all become trading lambs,” Lochy said.

Across the road on Appin’s lower country the six-tooths are mated on April 10 while on the higher country the two-tooths and four-tooths see the rams on April 20.

Rams are out for 2.5 cycles with the lambing percentage normally in the 125-130 range. Scanning identifies the single, multiple-bearing and dry ewes which are culled.

Winter rotations generally involve mobs of 500-1000 with some rotation lengths being quite short. Rotations are continued for as long as possible before the ewes are set stocked. Paddock size is 5-20ha.

“No matter how much grass we take into the winter we generally run out sometime in July, particularly at higher altitude where the grass just stops growing because the ground gets too cold,” Lochy said.

To help alleviate this shortage 100kg/ha (21kg N/ha) of ASN Cold Start is applied in the spring. Following an extremely dry summer last year it was also applied (after  the autumn rains arrived) to build winter feed reserves.

At lower altitudes where the hoggets are run the grass keeps growing throughout the winter.

Single bearing ewes are set stocked for lambing on the higher, steeper country at 9/ha while ewes with multiples are lambed on the easier, warmer country at 6/ha. Ewes are not shepherded at lambing.

A pre-Christmas muster of ewes and lambs results in a tape drench for the lambs and jetting of the ewes and lambs to prevent fly strike.

After weaning both ewes and their Romney lambs are set stocked with the latter being drenched and divided into sex mobs. The drenching interval for lambs is 28 days ending with an exit drench at the end of June.

“We use set stocking as an ease-of-management tool to take a bit of pressure off man and beast because we get sick of rotational grazing,” Tom says.

Ewe shearing occurs immediately after the lambs are shorn with lower conditioned ewes being drafted off, drenched and given preferential treatment. A similar procedure is carried out at the end of tupping and pre-lambing when all ewes are also vaccinated with Nilvax.

The Tylees pay $1200 for their Romney rams and go for a more compact type, focusing on the maternal index and placing particular emphasis on the number of lambs born breeding value.

“We used to buy the biggest rams we could however we don’t want our ewes to get too big hence the change to a more moderate type,” Lochy said.

Porina are an annual threat to winter feed reserves so are treated with a growth regulator (Dimlin). Grub size (optimum 10mm) is monitored to determine the ideal time to spray.

“One year we missed spraying and we had to send half our hoggets away grazing while the ewes really struggled,” Lochy said.

Agritone at 0.5 litres/ha to kill thistles is added to the porina spray.

Woolless being considered The Tylees are becoming increasingly disillusioned with growing wool, last year’s prices being $2.06/kg for a ewe and $2.11/lamb.

“I remember when I started farming 40 years ago we were getting between $5.00 and $5.50/kg,” Lochy said.

To ensure sheep farming continues to be sustainable for future generations no-wool farming is being considered.

“The work and expenses involved in growing wool are massive so we’re seriously looking at switching to Wiltshires which appear to tick a lot of boxes for us.”