Longridge Agriculture

March 2017

Hamish and Annabel Craw are the sixth generation of the Craw family to farm the outer bays of Banks Peninsula. They have three young children. Lincoln University-educated and highly motivated, Hamish and Annabel hosted a Beef + Lamb New Zealand Innovation Farm project on pasture management to encourage legumes on dry hill country. They had previously been a B+LNZ sheep profit partnership farm, with the aim to increase profitability by 5% annually compounded over three years.

Longridge Agriculture is a partnership with Hamish’s parents Alastair and Sue Craw (now resident in nearby Akaroa). It won three awards in the Canterbury Ballance Farm Environment Awards in 2015. 

Longridge Agriculture is 422ha (350ha effective) on the northern side of Banks Peninsula, between Little Akaloa and Okains Bay, only 70ha capable of being cultivated and the rest moderate to steep hill country.

The business is in seven different farm blocks. Through development and livestock improvement since 1994, when Alastair and Sue took over, and Hamish came home in 1996, the farm has become an intensive sheep breeding and finishing business along with some cattle grazing. They concentrate production on the period between March and December and aim to have minimal finishing stock on hand in January and February, when the hills dry out.

A major objective is to send lambs and cattle away when they have reached a finished state, ready for slaughter, rather than having to sell store stock as in the past. Total stocking is around 3500 stock units over winter, 85% sheep and 15% cattle.

Rainfall at Longridge averages 760mm annually and the altitude range of the farm runs from sea level to 700m, including rocky outcrops and ridges.

Longridge carries 1600 Longdown maternal composite ewes and 750 ewe hoggets, with lambing targets of 160% in the ewes and 100% in the ewe hoggets. More than half of male lambs are sent to slaughter at target weaning weight of 33-35kg LW, drafted in early-December. The remainder should be off the farm by mid-February and the overall slaughter weight goal is 18.5kg CW or better. Ewe lambs should then reach 50kg LW when the rams go out on April 20. The average ewe weight in the flock is 70kg LW.

The cultivated paddocks now have permanent lucerne and lucerne-mix stands on which ewes with lambs at foot are break-fed from lambing (started on September 1) until weaning, and average of 94 days. Lambs are capable of 330-360g/day LW growth rates to the weaning target weight. Ewes are stocked on the lucerne/lucerne-mix at 12su/ha on 10-12 day rotation. Lucerne mix was with chicory and plantain, brome and prairie grass, and some red and white clover.

Mixing the species cuts down the animal health issues with pure lucerne but it also reduces the stand sustainability. All lucerne-mix forage is grazed in the paddock, with nothing cut and conserved.

The sheep profit partnership (SPP) project was founded on lambing percentage and weaning weight as the two key targets on the summer-dry property. Hamish said higher lambing percentages meant increased profit per stock unit and the sooner lambs could be sent to slaughter the better, preferably off mum at weaning. Those key objectives then flowed into breeding decisions, to favour rams that lift fertility and give the best pre-weaning growth rates.

The breeding flock started from a Romney base with East Friesian, Texel, Poll Dorset and Coopworth genetics added, through the present use of rams from Longdown composite sheep bred for hill country from the Earl family in North Canterbury.

The much higher feed quality forages grown on cultivation paddocks and used in rotational grazing for speedy weight gains have revolutionised farm management on Longridge taking some of the grazing pressure off the hill country.

Now attention is being turned to the slopes of medium hill country (200ha of farm), where a new innovation farm project uses different spray-out treatments to foster legumes – red clover, white clover, sub clover, lotus – with different grass mixes including perennial ryegrass, cocksfoot, prairie grass, and phalaris, and some herbs, such as plantain and chicory. The objective is to improve annual pasture production from 5 tonnes of dry matter per hectare per year to 8tDM/ha, while also lifting the quality, from 10 mega joules of metabolisable energy per hectare to 11mjME/ha.

This class of country is used to grow ewe hoggets and the Craws believe there is potential for it to be more valuable to the operation. A foundation principle is to enhance existing legumes without cropping, so different suppressant spray treatments are followed by oversowing of legumes and mixes that are being trialled.

The first spray treatments were in spring 2014, ranging from nil (control), through light or heavy chemical topping for grass suppression, to grass eradication. This was followed on some plots by a second spray in autumn 2015, and then seeding with different mixes.

Plots have been monitored and measured throughout. Over the grass eradication plots in the first year (measured spring 2015) the legume content increased to an average of 32% of total dry matter. The highest legume content (44%) was obtained with seed mix B – white clover 6kg/ha, red clover 2kg, sub clover 7kg, plantain 2kg, ryegrass 5kg, cocksfoot 4kg, total 25kg/ha. White clover was the most dominant legume in spring 2015.

Light and heavy chemical topping greatly encouraged weeds (mainly yarrow) and weed grasses without compensatory growth in legumes. In the control plots the weed grasses were also dominant (60%) and the desirable ryegrass, cocksfoot and clovers were minority species.