Best practices on sheep and beef Rochdale Station in Central Hawkes Bay.
Rochdale Station run sheep and cattle on medium rolling to steep country in Central Hawke’s Bay. It is home to Kate Dearden, her two children and partner Terry Walters. Kate has relocated from a life in the city to the country, and who has taken on the challenges that life and climate change have thrown her way. Kate and Terry are keen to help bridge the knowledge gaps that still exist between town and country, as they continuously develop their farming policy for a resilient dryland farming system.
The 935ha (750ha effective) Rochdale Station is located at Wanstead. The property, held in a family trust, includes 185ha in bush and pine. A further 56ha is in QEII covenant, started in 2004 by Kate's late husband, Paul. In 2007, Paul and Kate began fencing off and riparian planting waterways and gullies — long before talk of legislation to do so was introduced.
Paul passed away suddenly in 2016, and one of his enduring legacies is a covenanted area of maturing regenerating bush. "Paul was the third generation on the farm and each generation has improved it with pole planting of poplar and willow to reduce erosion, work that we continue today", Kate says.
While some results have been mixed (parts of the planted areas are under pressure from hares, deer and drought) other areas have been very successful, she says. Possums are under control but feral deer are prevalent in the area, optimally needing deer fencing to protect vulnerable areas.
Planting is ongoing and the farm now has a seed service, supplying Kakano Nursery (based in Flemington) and buying plants back from them. This past autumn another 2,500 native plants were planted in 4ha of gully alongside a catchment dam in an effort to mitigate sediment run-off into waterways.
Rochdale Station is a founding member of the Porangahau Catchment Group - a proactive community initiative of farmers, local people and iwi who have a passion for best farming practices, use of land and are invested in water quality outcomes for Porangahau. They are also members of the Hawke’s Bay Farm Forestry Association. The station currently has 27ha in forestry; which has been pruned and thinned and is nearing time for harvest. A further 33ha of steep, unproductive farmland but still accessible for future harvest, has been identified as best suited to forestry, and will be planted this autumn.
Kate is working alongside her partner, and farm business manager, Terry Walters. Together they are setting Rochdale Station up for future challenges, including climate change. The past couple of years have reinforced their thinking on what's needed to make the farm more sustainable.
"We are happy to share our story so that people can see the environmental investment into farming and a vision to create a sustainable system with minimal environmental impact. Farming can sometimes be portrayed negatively in the media currently, due to the climate and environmental issues that we face. By sharing the journey on our farm, we hope to bridge that knowledge gap and showcase a clean, green, viable and sustainable farming system."
They have recently been faced with successive autumn droughts. The first was so bad that they were feeding out to the ewe flock right through tupping. Normally, it's a grazing rotation around the farm. Even the cows were sent to grazing elsewhere. Normally reliable springs were reduced to a trickle and demand exceeded supply for stock water. They had to invest in new infrastructure, or else de-stock. They were lucky, Kate says, to be able to put in a new solar pumping system and pump from a large dam near the house to where they normally draw from a spring, then solar pump again to two holding tanks from which gravity fed water reticulates around the middle areas of the farm.
The second dry autumn, the springs servicing the back country of the farm slowed right down. SO Kate and Terry identified a dam site with good catchment area and a 3.2ML water storage capacity dam was built and fenced off. This water storage is set up to house another solar pumping system if needed, and will mitigate any shortfall of water again to the cattle systems and the rest of the back country.
Terry and Kate talk a lot about climate adaptation, and with trending longer summer and autumn dry periods, decided to revisit their livestock policies and build more flexibility into their farming systems. They also run their ideas past farm consultant, Roy Fraser.
Planting pines is an added diversification, and continuing to plant natives and fence off waterways is an extension of the work that the late Paul started nearly 20 years ago. "We thought, many years ago, that it looked as though that was the way things were heading in the farming sector and we wanted to chip away at it, instead of it becoming something huge when it became legislation. It's a way of future proofing the farm for the next generation. It's satisfying to see the growth and regenerating bush and birdlife each year and to know that we are doing our best for the water leaving our farm and heading into the Porangahau catchment.
Kate grew up in Auckland and met Paul through a reality TV show, 'City Girls' in 2003. She was one of five Aucklanders who were sent to a farm at Ongaonga in Central Hawke's Bay for six weeks. Kate clarifies that she wasn't in fact a ‘real’ city girl. She was from a 'tramping and camping' family who just happened to live in suburbia. The ‘City Girls’ experience was right up her street and it was also where she met Paul, a friend of the farm owner. After dating long distance for a while, Kate moved to Hawke's Bay in August 2004 and married Paul a couple of years later.
Kate loved Rochdale right from the start. "I was 28 and I'd lived and worked in the city and found Rochdale a beautiful place to be." Kate initially worked as a physiotherapist, while Paul ran the farm. Kate helped with docking and yard work when she could, but two young children soon soaked up her remaining time. When Paul died, it was his wish that Kate take his place as one of the farm trustees.
"I felt a huge responsibility and desire to learn everything I could about the farm, so that I could run it well for the family and carry on as he had. Farming helped her through grief. It was a case of "having something to focus on and cling to, to help keep me moving through the days. I had so much to learn, that it was actually quite therapeutic." Leaving the farm was never an option, she says. "This is our family home, we'd renovated and were raising our children here. I didn't want to go anywhere else."
Friends and other farming professionals stepped in to help. Kate and Terry worked together to draw up a Farm Business Plan and over time Terry taught Kate about the day to day running of the farm. She now has a team of dogs, does the accounts and is fully engaged in the business.
Kate and Terry now farm very much in tandem, increasing the ratio of trade stock for flexibility to suit local seasonality, changing climate and soil type. They have recently made the decision to go from a maternal ewe flock, breeding their own replacements, to an all-terminal sire, which will reduce the lambs carried through the dry summer months.
Rochdale runs 1900 Romney ewes (tupping 18 March) and all terminal sire to a South Suffolk ram. Scanning is consistently 175% and lambing 140%. The target is 70% of lambs off Mum, 38kg liveweight and 16.5 to 17kg hookweight. Weaning is at the end of November, into December.
In February/March Rochdale buys 2800-3000 male, winter trade lambs at 33-35kg liveweight, farmed on new grasses to 50kg liveweight and killed late June through to September.
There's no hogget mating and each April the farm currently buys in 500 replacement ewe hoggets.
Rochdale also farms with 23ha of winter crop, which is resown in spring as a summer crop for lambs and 120kg bulls. A current trial has seen the winter crop of kale under-sown with plantain on well-draining land, to save time, and reduce fuel and soil compaction. The following autumn the area will be resown into permanent pasture.
The property runs 3 bull systems on higher shale country in winter, where it's free draining and doesn't pug. The heavier cattle are farmed here, the balance held on crops and the lighter bulls are on our heavier clay country on rotation.
Wintered on Rochdale are 250 rising two-year old bulls and 50 rising two-year old steers. 250 rising one-year old bulls, half purchased in Spring at 115kg with the remainder purchased in autumn at 230kg. The aim for this class of cattle is to kill before a second winter and replace them with a 465kg liveweight bull, though this is season dependent. If not killed, they're carried over as a two-year old. These big bulls are finished on spring grass and processed October to December.
A mob of 58 cows are now being replaced by another 50 steers. Their job is maintaining pasture quality, including cleaning up pastures over summer. The steers are more flexible than cows in a drier climate.
Kate says pursuing a combination of livestock and planting has been about diversification, ETS credits, future harvest returns and generally better use of land. Increasing planted areas and a slight decrease in stock numbers helps with the farms carbon status. She and Terry have used the New Zealand Beef and Lamb greenhouse gas calculator to work out the farms carbon status and as part of their planning going forward.
Kate and Terry are supported by Shepherd General Lockey Harris, who lives with his partner in the farm cottage.