Richard Scholefield is General Manager of the 8,500 hectare (21,000 acre) Whangara Farms on the eastern shore of New Zealand’s North Island. Made up of three partnering Maori farms, the Whangara Farms Partnership is governed by a board of directors with representatives from the three Maori incorporations. Scholefield and his team manage 7,500 head of cattle and 60,000 sheep.
The farm is focused on implementing and investing in a cutting-edge Land Environment Plan to help protect and enhance the farm’s natural resources, as well as improving livestock genetics, optimizing pasture productivity via rotational and targeted grazing, all while advancing and improving animal health and welfare.
“The key to being a good manager of any business is to treat it like it’s your own and that is what we do at Whangara Farms. Sustainability is the key to every decision we make within our business and we are constantly looking at ways that we can improve. These lands will always be here – they can never be sold. Decisions we make today and the way we treat the land are going to affect the future generations.”
Key areas of sustainable practice
Animal health plans are reviewed annually with an independent veterinarian and formulated specifically for each group of livestock. The farm also carries out fecal egg count and drench efficacy testing every five years to determine which drench type to use, as resistance is becoming a bigger challenge. For sheep, a triple active wormer is used, and for cattle a dual-active. All calves get a five-way Clostridial vaccination and Copper bolus. Cattle are vaccinated against Bovine Viral Diarrhea (BVD) and Leptospirosis.
- Total farm mortality is currently 1.2% with a target of 1%
- Calf mortality is currently 1.6% against an industry average of 6.4%
The farm operates a Rotational Grazing policy across its pastureland, which has numerous advantages over continuous or set stocked grazing. The system involves moving animals through a series of pastures, to match the forage availability with the animals' production requirements. This also benefits the pastures by providing them time to recover and regrow and be more productive.
- The farm produced 88kg live weight gain per livestock unit more than the national average, improving animal efficiency and reducing days to slaughter
- Optimize livestock forage intakes based upon body condition and required growth rate and pasture availability
- Pastures can be rested and allowed to regrow for up to 50 days if needed
- Integrated stock grazing (cattle and sheep) to clear pastures
Providing troughed water systems across the farm has been a key priority. Whangara has invested heavily in a piped water infrastructure around the farm to ensure animals have easy access to clean water. Moving away from the traditional methods of providing water via reservoirs or ponds has improved water access and quality for stock and provided easier management of the grazing and livestock.
- $2 million investment, with a 30% return on investment
- Easy access to good quality water provided to stock
- Improved stock health and productivity
- Enables full utilization of rotational grazing system
Land Environment Plans (LEP) form the foundation of current land management as well as setting out clear environmental objectives and deliverables for the future. The LEPs have been identified as key to the future of the farm and business and play a central role in operational and strategic decisions.
- Targeted planting of 3,500 trees per year in areas at risk of erosion
- Fence off all waterways and tributaries to exclude livestock
- Retire 200 hectares of marginal coastal land
- Match available land class with type of livestock
Decision support software
The farm uses decision support software as a tool to help management decisions and strategic planning for the farm’s livestock holding capacity and grazing strategy. Information is gathered on local weather conditions and the current and predicted rate of grass growth. With the addition of livestock weights and growth targets, feed budgeting can be projected 3–4 months out.
- Maximize feed efficiency of pastures and grazing livestock
- Livestock marketing decisions can be based on analysis and assessment of predicted pasture growth versus required livestock growth rates
Whangara data is annually benchmarked to monitor performance against the Beef + Lamb New Zealand national database. This ensures the farm is operating efficiently and provides opportunities to identify areas for improvement. Through support provided by Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and Silver Fern Farms, Whangara has piloted a farm assessment tool that measures the sustainability of the farming enterprise. The aim is to provide visibility and transparency to the customer which demonstrates the sustainability of the beef produced. The model captures the goals and aspirations of Whangara Farms and is driven by on-farm measurement and reporting enabling a balance between investment, production, efficiency and financial goals.
Whangara Farms operates an integrated breeding and finishing farm. It has carried out artificial insemination on cattle for the last five years and is focused on Genetic Selection and improving breeding values and indexes. Ten years ago, mature cow weights were 700kg (1,540lb.) but they have been reduced to 580kg (1,280lb.). This reduces cow nutritional requirements, while a smaller cow helps reduce damage to pastures during wet periods. The aim is to maintain a consistent body condition and for each cow to produce a 240kg (530lb.) live-weight weaned calf.
- Calving index of 92% for breeding cows and 85% for heifers
- Heifer conception rates have improved from 68% in 2007 to 94% in 2016
- Calving interval of 407 was 42 days shorter than national average
(Data from 2015/16)
Kua mahi rawa nui Whangara pāmu kore ke te mahi i nui ake. Kua mahi matou rawa nui e kore i ki te mahi i nui ake.
Whangara Farms have done too much not to do more. We have come too far not to go further.
“Whangara Farms is more than two words. It is much more than a place. Whangara is alive. It is inside our beating heart. An intergenerational expanse; where we as guardians have protected the richness of our land. We are devoted to producing premium quality beef products and have built a business with the utmost regard for quality, longevity and sustainability.”
“As General Farm Manager, Richard is driven by a passion to improve the farm, its livestock, and the natural environment while delivering value to the 2,600 Maori shareholders. He understands that his management decisions have both short and longer-term implications that will ultimately influence the sustainability of the business. The focus given to improving the farm’s natural environment has been driven by the Land Management Plans which provide the framework around the key efforts to be undertaken and investment required. A farming business that is driven by great management and investment is providing real benefits to the environment and its livestock, as well as an economic return to its shareholders.”
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“The key to success is based on experience, sharing information, discovery, experimentation and keeping an open mind.”
“We are constantly striving to discover new practices and technologies that can help us improve the sustainability of our business.”