The farm area, which now includes 850 ha of lease land, now totals 1800 ha and incorporates a good balance of flats (76 ha is irrigated) and cultivable and steep hill country.
The family run 3500 Highlander ewes, which scan 220% and lamb 160%, 1200 hoggets and 250 Stabiliser breeding cows and 60-70 heifers. They also graze dairy heifers and for the first time this year they have bought 120 Friesian bull calves to help build up stock numbers which were reduced during the drought.
This represents a 50:50 sheep to cattle ratio which Mark and Jane feel is a good fit for their farm.
“The 50:50 sheep cattle ratio gives us a good balance between sheep, beef and dairy support,” say Mark.
With only have one full-time employee, (although their student-age children do help out particularly over summer) this ratio spreads the workload.
The family bought Stabiliser genetics on the recommendation of friend Boyd McDonald and find the breed serves them well.
Mark jokes that they initially ran black Stabiliser cattle and pretended they were Angus, but for some reason, when they sold some store, the red Stabilisers fetched a 10 c/kg premium over the black.
They run an A and B herd with the B cows going to a Charolais terminal sire. While they strive to finish all of the cattle (and lambs) they breed, they are very flexible and will sell store when prices are high or climatic conditions will mean finishing is a struggle.
The calves are weaned in late March and this year the average weaning weight was 280 kg. They are wintered and finished on grass and they try as many as possible away before their second winter at 300 kgCW. This is typically all of the heifers and a handful of steers.
Yearling heifers are mated at around 350 kg liveweight and any that don’t get in calf are finished and sold prime.
The couple say they are particularly impressed with the breed’s fertility, growth rates and temperament.
“We are getting the yearling heifers in-calf so easily and we don’t have any calving problems, although we do select a low birthweight bulls for them.”
They will retain the progeny from the heifers as replacements if they like the look of them.
The dairy heifers are grown out on feed crops and high-quality legume-rich pastures which they are planting more of every year.
One of the most significant changes they have made to their business in the past two years is the installation of a centre-pivot irrigator and sprinklers. They turned it on for the first-time last spring, but the extremely hot and dry-patch just before Christmas saw water restrictions put in place and they were unable to use it.
After this rocky start, they hope the irrigation will provide them with the security to finish lambs to heavier weights, increase stock numbers or maybe grow some sort of specialist crops. Again, they are flexible with how they will make the best use of this water.
One of the drawbacks with installing the centre-pivot was the removal of trees, some of which they had planted.
But they already have a plan in place to plant low trees and shrubs under the pivot to provide livestock with shade and shelter.
Jane says they feel fortunate to live on Kairoa Downs and share the farm with members of the community by allowing it be used for various sporting events. They also run an independent horse-trekking business where riders bring their own horses, stay on the farm and have access to the property.
Environmental Award Winners
Jane and Mark Schwass won the Beef + Lamb Livestock Award at this year’s Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
The judges commented on their strong level of production and profitability from their livestock enterprise, the good use of livestock age groups to fit land use capabilities and exceptional sheep and cattle performance.
They also noted that the couple has great stockmanship that is reflected in livestock and business relationships developed with stock owners.