Lifting Profitability at Redcliffs Station

November 2013

Willie and Sue Ensor are involved in a Beef + Lamb profit partnership programme

Willy and Sarah Ensor’s Redcliffs Station is part of a group of 12 Canterbury beef farmers that have been working together with Beef+Lamb New Zealand to identify management or technology changes that can lift beef productivity and profitability.

This group is part of a national Beef+Lamb NZ initiative “Beef Profit for Partnership” based on a successful programme run in Australia with beef farmers.

The Canterbury group is predominantly foothill farmers and has been working together since 2010. Within the group is a range of beef policies from breeding cows on hard high country to finishing on downs.

All the farmers are required to record and monitor key performance benchmarks within their beef policies and identify a key area in which they will focus with the objective of lifting performance by 5%.

Redcliffs Station is 1985 ha and is run by Willy and Sarah along with a permanent shepherd. Wool is the main earner at Redcliffs.

Willy has only recently retired as chair of the Canterbury Merino Association. He’s also been involved for many years in a benchmarking group for merino. The aim of that group has been to build up a picture of the diversity of management practices and their success.

He’s been recently quoted as saying that supply contracts for meat and wool have insulated merino farmers against slumps in the market. He says contracts with companies like Icebreaker and Smartwools have been the difference between “breathing air and breathing water.”

There are 3100 merino ewe with 400 half-breeds. The ewe hogget numbers are around 1060 with 700 culls killed for AOM contracts.

AOM is Alpine Origin Merino – a joint venture between NZ Merino and Silver Fern Farms – which has been set up to differentiate merino meat in the market (the brand is Silere).

The Ensors have been working on irrigation to finish or forward store lambs and calves. They are also looking to lift numbers by 15%.

There are 162 mixed aged Angus calves. They calve usually around 25 September. There are also 40 R2 heifers, 92 R1 heifers and 44 R1 steers. Willy sold 44 calves at weaning last season to take advantage of the high weaner price.

He says he needs as many dry cattle as possible in spring to utilize the high oversown country. He says the cows fit in with sheep for weaning. He weans as late as possible to save winter feed. The cows clean up the high blocks and then the lower blocks after ewe rotation.

Consultant Nicky Hyslop from Macfarland Rural Business says the objectives are to ‘‘accelerate the rate of technology uptake on the farm’’ and to improve productivity and profitability. The project has looked at key benchmarks right across the farms.’

These included reproductive performance, liveweight gains, productivity and financial performance (income and expenses both per stock unit and kilogram of cow weight — kgCW).

Management areas that the Beef for Profit group have considered and completed trial work on include:

  • Parasite management in beef systems.
  • Winter forage and finishing systems
  • Yard weaning
  • Use of EID to assist management decisions
  • Trace element supplementation.

The group have also been looking at strategic feed in periods of pasture shortage and when LWG [liveweight gains] response is likely to be high .

The main focus at Redcliff is cow fertility. They have recently been working on getting yearling heifers to adequate mating weights (target of 300 kg) and trying to maximize calf rates for the first calvers.

The group has also been looking to wean earlier to improve post weaning and winter live weight gains. Along with that they’ve been looking to minimize the weaning check and maximize live weight gain pre winter.

Over the last 12 months trace elements have really been a focus, in particular copper and selenium. While a number of farmers with the Canterbury BPP group are using copper or selenium supplementation in their beef herds, others are not. The responses to any supplementation have not historically been well monitored.

Farmers within the group tested (bloods and liver biopsy) weaned beef calves for both copper and selenium levels. In consultation with local vets, farmers administered appropriate supplementation to a trial mob. Each farm had a control mob and live weights were recorded at key times over the next 6 months. Both the control and trial animals were managed identically over this period.