Join Al & Juddy as they welcome their first guest, sheep and beef farmer Chris Chamberlain, in the latest episode - ‘Forging lasting relationships’.
In this deep dive discussion, they explore their shared history and experience reaching back close to 25 years.
This is the first of two podcasts so don’t miss the banter and experience that will leave you wanting more!
‘We try and take the risk and vulnerabilities away and add benefit. So, it’s about drafting through that knowledge base and utilising the stuff that’s applicable to your business’ – Chris Chamberlain
Allister Hi, Lara, how are you?
Lara Hey, guys, how are you going?
Juddy So in this segment, Lara is going to ask us some questions that have come through the Facebook page. And we are going to try and give some answers to those questions.
Allister Right fire away. Lara, from Marketing.
Lara The first one we have taken on a dry land lease back in January and one paddock hasn't been re-grassed for over 25 years. I'm putting it into oats for winter then been thinking about planting in a rape crop afterwards for the summer as we are dry land and then ryegrass after the summer back into permanent pasture. Would it be best to plant straight rape crop or rape/ grass mix or any ideas of something to put in after the oats. Cheers from Phillip.
Juddy Thanks, Phillip. I think this one for you. Ally. What do you think's happening here?
Allister Well, to answer the question around a wintering rotation, followed by a regressing summer crop phase. And I would suggest that oats and grass are a great option. I just don't know what stock classes he's asking after, but I see the most flexibility and your whole season being in the oats and grass combination. I just think it gives you ground cover through the winter, gives you a few options at the end of August and September. So definitely consider the oats and grass option as far as the summer crop goes. I feel the oats and grass are probably the only tweak you need to your original plan. I would definitely go with the forage rape and keep it really simple. You're bringing in a new paddock that's coming out of thatch. You don't know what weed burdens you're going to stir up. So I'd definitely keep the summer crop as simplistic as possible. So you give yourself all your spray options.
Juddy Alister I'm wondering whether under the summer rape crop you couldn't put some Ecotain.
Allister Yes. Ecotain would be one of the few things you could do. There's a registration for chemistry across both the brassica and the herb here in New Zealand. So there is a spray based option which would actually take out thistle, which would be one of your biggest minefields that you don't know about from your really old pasture, but you don't know what you're digging up from the past. But personally, I would keep it simple because just because of that, you're digging up 25 year old thatch. You do not know what is going to come up. I would keep it very simple and maximise your options. So the primary variation is in the winter feed where I would definitely recommend oats and grass.
Lara Mark wants to know if a porina caterpillar met a grass grub in a dark alley, which would win the fight.
Allister Oh, great question, Mark. Great question. Have you got an opinion Glenn? Because I have.
Juddy Well, I was trying to think this from a really logical point of view. And I go, well, the porina is actually an aboveground feeder and the grass grub well it's underground, so it's the underdog. So I'm picking the porina over the grass grub in a dark alley.
Allister Yep. So just for clarity, for a few people from out of town, the porina is the caterpillar form or a caterpillar form of a moth. And that can be as big as your little finger. So it's got a bit of size and weight on its side. But I back the grass scrub because grass grub are notorious bullies and they do not come to a fight by themselves so the native grass grub is a scarab in New Zealand that's native to our native tussock lands and it really has exploded as one of our single major pests across New Zealand and it never comes to the party by itself. So when it ambushes this, porina it's not going to do it by itself. It's going to bring a half a dozen mates and they're going to really do a number on it. So I'm backing the grass scrub on this one every day.
Lara A well calculated answer. Well done.
Juddy Thanks, Mark, for posing that.
Lara If anyone has any questions flick them through on our Facebook AgricomNZ or on firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to email us. So we'd love to see them come through.
Allister Thanks Lara from marketing.
Juddy Well, Allister you're looking great, today we've got a guest in the studio. Who have we got today?
Allister Well, we've got a farmer that I've had a relationship with for 25 years, and it's with great pleasure that I would like to introduce Chris Chamberlain from Banks Peninsula. And we're going to run through how this relationship came about and what sort of journeys we've been on for the last 25 years, and why we actually still talk to each other basically after 25 years. And a few people who know Chris will laugh at that because we do talk to each other and it always takes up a bit of time because there's a lot of very, very interesting topics that can come up through this relationship. So that's who we've got here today. So welcome, Chris.
Juddy So the topic really is forging lasting relationships in agricultural extension. And I think we'll see that as we get through this, that it's in this case has happened. But before we get into the topic we thought what we should do is ask Chris a couple of questions. So we get to know him a little bit more so, Chris, what was your first ever job?
Chris First ever job was laying tiles on the Leeston block, you get water off a wet.
Allister Oh as is in drainage? Digging holes.
Chris Yep. Straight labouring.
Allister And they are ceramic tiles?
Chris Ceramic tiles, no knuckles. Yeah. Break one, and you're in trouble.
Juddy That's a good start to your career. How much sleep do you work on? Are you someone that sleeps good long 8 hours a day? Or do you operate on a whole lot less?
Chris I'm pretty good. I'm probably about six, seven hours before the brain starts to kick in in the morning.
Juddy Yeah, well, that's good there's some relationship between the number of hours you sleep and IQ, I think, but I'm not sure whether it's positive or negative.
Chris No, we won't go there.
Juddy We won't go there. What are you doing in your spare time?
Chris My spare time?
Juddy Yeah. Do you have any spare time?
Chris No, not really, no. If you asked my wife that, she would have a different answer to what I've got. So no, where we farm, I love it and we live in a beautiful area, so I just generally enjoy the peninsula. I play a bit of casual cricket. I try and get out of it every weekend, but I was into my sport earlier on, but a lot of reading. I've got a boat that doesn't go in the water very often because it breaks down on me and I can't fix it.
Juddy Excellent. Oh, and enjoying the environment. And this probably leads into some of the stuff we're going to be talking about today, but have you had a significant mentor, you know, as you go through your farming career, has there been anybody that's been quite instrumental in terms of, you know, helping you think about the way you go about that or, you know, some of the strategies that you've employed?
Chris I wouldn't think there's just one. I've had a lot of associated mentors in my time. Jacqui's dad, who we first started in partnership with at Putiki he's a businessman, and he and his wife Maureen were, you know, they gave us a chance and very innovative, business minded. So he's been fantastic and looking from the outside in rather than being bogged down in farming. But the other mentor was through I've worked for a lot of people earlier on, and, you know, I was lucky to have really good bosses that quite often brought me into the business of farming, not just farming itself. So instead of just dog walloping, you know, we were actually understanding why they were doing stuff so a whole lot. And then, through the industry, once we started farming on our own account, we've also met gentlemen like yourselves. And you know that network just grows as you farm. If you want to read and listen and take advice.
Juddy Yeah. If I was looking at my perspective and you've mentioned us, and this next comment doesn't actually, you know, associate that. But for me, I think one of your successes of you actually surround yourself with good people. And the other thing that's really obvious is that you're very well read. So some of the stuff that you are reading is scientific. Some of its very market related. But I think you've got your finger on the pulse, and that would be my two comments, is that you do surround yourself with people who are experts in particular areas, but also that you've got your finger on the pulse so that would be my observation.
Allister Yeah and I'll just add to that too, because what is dangerous about having as big as networks as you have is that you get exposed to an awful lot of things and it's very, very easy to get distracted and take off in all different directions. And I feel that's what you've handled really well over time, is that you have a wide exposure to a whole lot of different topics and a whole lot of different farming environments because of all your reaches into the agricultural network here in New Zealand. But I feel it's the fact that you don't get distracted, you pay attention, and you do listen to your trusted advisers and feel that you haven't gotten distracted a hell of a lot in the 25 years that I have known you. You've had ideas, but you've always tested them before you've implemented them, if that makes sense.
Chris Yeah, it does and I think yeah we are in an information overload these days. And I always pull it back to where we farm and what we do and the things that we do well on our land. It doesn't change a lot. It's just the little things around on the outside. We try and take your risk and vulnerabilities away and add benefit. So it's about drafting through that knowledge base and utilising the stuff that's applicable to your business.
Allister I think you do that exceptionally well.
Juddy So may be this is a really good lead into giving us a snapshot of what your farming operation is and maybe how it’s changed, you know, over time.
Allister Well, I might jump in first and just give the listeners a bit of a view here about Chris's property on the Banks Peninsula because we are talking about one of the most beautiful farming landscapes in New Zealand, and that's when Chris was answering the question about what do you do in your spare time? He literally lives on one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. So when we are discussing that and now discussing the farm, that's what I would love people to have a picture in their mind of a coastal property that has got beautiful big hills and native bush at the top and hard points out the front of them. I am using descriptions that Chris, I'm sure, will allude to and surrounded by. It's a volcanic outcrop on the edge of the Canterbury Plains is the Banks Peninsula environment. It's quite unique and quite stunning.
Chris Yeah. So we started farming in 1987. As I said, the farm with Jackie, my wife and one daughter, Phoebe, we got into it with Jack’s parents. In the first instance, we hit 1987 when there was a change in government and farming at the Doldrums took subsidies off. So we started off with a 16% interest rate and were 23 within about six months and farm for the next 19 years, with interest being our biggest cost on farm and learnt to just survive on the natural attributes of the property. So we started off with 707 hectares on the northern heads of Port Levy, which is the first bay out of the Lyttleton Harbour heads. If anyone wants to do the geography, 13 km of coastline and, as Allister said it faces due north, good winter warm country, good animal health country, no tractors, very low cost. We went in there with two horses and a good team of dogs, a couple of sets of wire strainers and a $2,000 motorbike and a $1,000 series two Landrover, and that was us. So we subsequently farm through those tough years. I was originally bought up in Leeston on an arable property not far from here. So I actually come from an arable background, but learnt my limitations early in life that I was better at breaking things than fixing things. So I have got nothing in the way of a fix of machinery. In fact, our clearing cellar Port Levy would take all of about 5 minutes and include a claw hammer and a set of wire strainers.
Chris So I had a background of both. And I worked on a lot of farms, hence the mentors. And as soon as I escaped my first year out of school off a cropping farm, I headed to the hills with some dogs and just fell in love with it. So passionate about it. Loved the fact that you're walking the hills, you're dealing with Mother Nature every day. She's our biggest restrict and not the government policies that are thrown at us. But we grew the property and in the ensuing years in the late nineties to early 2000s, we had a bit of a rush. Opportunities come all at once, which seems to be the way. So we ended up leasing some land, at Leeston off my family, off my parents. And so we got out our toe in that game, which was value adding onto our animals. We're producing and breeding at Port Levy. We then leased more land, so our balances sort of increased. We increased stock units in Port Levy, and we had two or three properties there that came on board. One was a lease which we had for years and came off, and we also, in the same time frame, bought more land next door from a cousin and increased our Leeston block. So today as we sit in 2023 we've got 1100 hectres over in Port Levy, Banks Peninsula, all in one block and grown that from 700 hectares. And at Leeston, we own 80 hectares under irrigation with heavy good soils leasing an adjoining 70 hectares. And we've also got our network fingers on a regenerative cropping farmer who's Allister and Juddy's favourite topic, but he's a good guy but we've got we've got access to his 600 acres, 200 hectares of cropping land right on our boundary too. So we've got an extendable boundary on the flat which is where animals are finished and go to the works.
Allister And you know what you've just described, there is a farming operation that is obviously involved but also takes advantage of a lot of opportunities that come around you. And when we started designing today's interview, we realised very quickly that one of our aims was to actually discuss, you know, how you may implement leasing and what your pastoral and investment propositions may be working on lease blocks. And what we made a decision to do today is to go through this process of how these sort of relationships are formed and at a later episode discuss our strategies around bringing in new lease blocks and how it impacts your business. So that's something we are going to set aside as a deep dive into another podcast series and continue to focus on the integration between the Putiki property, which is basically a breeding block and the finishing block at Leeston, and watch how they interact through this discussion. I’ll probably just add another visual to this property. How high does it go?
Chris It's about 350 metres above sea level. We do get a little bit of snow up there, but if we're getting snow there, the rest I'd take my phone off the hook because I don't want to go snow raking at the top of Port Levy
Chris But as I said, we're winter mild, so we sit outside, we're in a temperate zone for winters. If we get a frost, it's cold. Or as I drive out to Leeston, the heat is on full bore, as soon as I have hit Gebbie’s pass, we've got soft.
Allister And your rainfall with the 350 days. This is probably to paint a picture basically at altitude it's a high rainfall environment.
Chris It's going to be Central Otago at the points and probably ranging from 22 to 25 inches that's dating myself. And at the top, we're about you know, we can be mid to late twenties and go into the early thirties. So we've got two distinct different classes of land on the farm. Going back to your point, we've managed to simplify 1100 hectares as Allister said, it is a straight breeding block. So, you know, originally we had it and we had our ewe lambs, our replacement ewe lambs are on the same farm. We had to make room for them, we had to make room for replacement calves. So we had all these class stock flying around on the 700 hectare, which is standard in most farming operations. So we've simplified it now. So we've got breeding cows and calves on the property, 250 of those, they all go to a Charolais bull, and we buy in first crossing because Hereford replacements and just terminal side the lot. So we've got one line, so we're not carrying that class of young stock and on the ewe front we terminal sire a fair chunk of the ewes and breeder from a flock replacement and but they ended up heading off to Leeston to be mated, grown out, to mate, to have a lamb, to come back, so we've simplified our property just runs capital stock breeding.
Allister Yep. So just to clarify with Leeston and the different consistency of forages, we can put at Leeston where you're able to bring your ewe lamb replacements which are under one year of age, you are able to grow them out and actually take a lamb crop off them at least before they go back onto the hills to be your primary capital?
Chris Yep. And we've been doing that since the early nineties, mid-nineties. And the reason we did that is because we were growing grass in the spring and burst out there with no stock and buying a spring trade coming out of the winter. It's at its highest price point and it was very hard to margin it. So it became obvious we went in blindly and just started lambing the hoggets down. Yeah, they were eating it, they were growing out. We knew we could grow them there, we don't know if we can grow them at home and the climate tells us whether we can or not.
Allister You'd be literally at your home farm, you'd be only two years out of five from any reliable growing out of young stock.
Allister Oh, very good. So we're just going to carry on. Probably to work out what were the first moments where we started connecting basically. And it really relates exactly to what we've just discussed. Hogget mating in New Zealand sheep industry has been around for a while. But you, you know, I wouldn't say you're at the start of that by any means, but you can see very quickly how having the second block of land led you to attempt to find a way to put more lambs on the ground while growing out stock. If I remember correctly, we met for the first time in around 1998 and that makes the relationship around 25 years. And some of the primary things we're looking at and thinking about at the time were so many questions around probably building, I would almost say building forage systems where you can do multiple things all at once, you know, have your cake and eat it. What were those first things we were doing then, if I remember right, it was the brassica.
Chris Well, going back to the original, I mean, you guys educated me to the words like tetraploid ryegrasses, using urea, which was a like a dirty word to a hill country farmer.
Chris These grasses need to be fed to grow. So we were growing volumes and volumes of grass, but growing volumes of grass on a flat land block. You came into sort of December-January issues of going reproductive seeding, even though it could topple make balage or hay. So we needed something that was going to finish. So our principle was if we landed a lamb from the breeding block every day, it was their extra day it was there it was costing us money. So we wanted to be able to finish. So we sort of morphed from the grasses we had a massive stocking rate on that place when we only had the original 40 hectares with an archaic irrigation system.
Allister The side role.
Chris So we'd be right really topped up in January before the lambs started to move sort of February because they were sort of the poorer growing lambs.
Allister And that's the second month of summer, basically.
Chris Second month of summer, so we needed to have it, and we sort of morphed into putting in the summer rape crop so we could hold all our ewe lambs on that for that January and February period and not irrigate that. So that peggy square took care of them. And then we started to bring the legumes and the finishing in and started to make a mosaic of that block of land. So we had the likes of a legume finishing system, and that's when we started to move into putting. Originally it was plantain and red clover, white clover under a rape paddock, so it was a canopy and take it through and that morphed into us then getting to was more of a specialist sort of red clover finishing. So yeah, over the length of time the systemisation of the farm has changed. And you know, for you guys it was me getting that absolutely expert knowledge about this stuff is what you need. And interestingly, when you put the stock numbers around it, we need the driver of the Italian grasses to feed the system, but we also needed a percentage of that property that lambs went on there and grew at 250 minimum a day to 300 plus when they are humming.
Allister That's grams per day.
Chris Grams per day growth rate. So they went in and they came out and they went on a truck and they were a beautiful eating experience for someone basically.
Juddy That kind of highlights this kind of relationship because although, you know and plot studies in small systems work, we saw the value of some of those systems getting that out and scaling that up and giving it to a farmer who had a whole lot of other challenges, I think was really important because we actually learned quite a lot from that exercise and the ability to do that in a situation where you were getting honest feedback. I think that's been really important.
Allister Well what I would say, you know, just to understand the context of what we've just heard is that you know, in my career, I had an incredibly high awareness of red clover use in new Zealand as the primary supply of red clover through the 1990s and into the 2000s. My business literally provided a vast amount of proprietary red clover into the New Zealand industry. And that is just the context and why Chris is here and why we've worked so well together, is that the context really is that no one used red clover for finishing, you know, the rose coloured glasses of a lot of people were aware of it to now, is because of the subsequent work that came from this relationship, from actually these moments we're discussing here today. So yeah, Chris was using rape to finish as an alternative to his grass phase, which just wasn't cutting the mustard when it came to lamb finishing right when all those lambs arrived on the property in the middle of summer. And so the brassica for summer feed is a very obvious supply of high energy feed, and it has a really consistent profile for animal performance. But it was this thinking by Chris and then our sort of tweaking it with time of adding these other species underneath, particularly the red clover was a dominant scenario. So at that point in time, red clover was used across New Zealand at about 3 kg in a pasture mix and most people would even only put 2 kg in because they did not believe it would last for long in a pasture. So there was absolutely no visibility of how much feed red clover could grow at that point in time. So where the debates between Chris and myself and my other colleagues always used to get to is that you would have your summer crop, which is the rape. And we always designed our mixes to focus on the primary job because we are putting about 50 to 55 lambs per hectare on this rape. And that was its primary job in life is to absorb, you know, 1400 lambs at a time into the small property and finish them at the fastest possible rate. Then we would get to April and May and Chris would say Al could you come out here and check out how much red clover I've got under here? Because the red clover was a secondary species underneath the rape, and we had to have a bit of faith in the first year or two because we were looking at red clover plants about one foot apart. And we were saying to ourselves over and over again, can we take this into the next summer as a crop of red clover? And we probably developed about, I think we were doing that for about four years before we recognised there was another option undersowing rape and then going through. But I would still emphasise it was the first time I personally in my career had seen the productive potential of red clover in a calendar year by itself. So this is someone who is dealing with red clover nationally. I understand the majority of it goes into pasture at a rate that was too low to truly see what it was capable of. And then, for the first time in my career, I saw pure stands of red clover. And one of the very first things Chris and I would debate was how fast, you know, how many plants per unit area would we need to carry on as a crop. But then also, just what would come next? How reliable would it be? And what we discovered very, very quickly in its first year, particularly incredibly active in the first week of spring, the first month of spring, more active than we ever expected. It would get about halfway through that first week of spring, month of spring, and then suddenly just explode under our feet. And then you just never really keep up with it. And I don't think even today I've seen many people actually stock our pure stands of clover accurately in November, because the wall of feed that keeps coming at you is quite significant. I think back calculating, we sort of work that we could have been producing between 14 and 16 tons per hectare inside the first 12 months on one of those full stands. And this is the first time I’ve experienced that in New Zealand. So this property, the interaction, the relationship led on to a really amazing bit of work that came afterwards, which really picks on into where we're going next and how we sort of utilise that knowledge and then sort of did the experiments to actually see what it all meant.
Chris Like you're totally correct in that, but before we actually went to sort of solidifying the red clover as being the plant, we did play around with adding a little bit of chicory to plantain. So we'd have a mixed herbs sward and to manage that some of the Agricom team would come past and say, my God, you need to eat that, the plantain is running on you. And so our animals were going in and preferentially grazing the clover. So it never expressed itself. And we were great stands of plantain and the chicory complicated it and then it would get messy. And so you could tell from the animals that they were preferentially grazing that red clover and so we ended up going through probably an 18 month period and just said, look, let's drop it out and go for that straight red. And that's when we started to see the true potential of the red clover because we weren't judging it with other plants competing in that same sward.
Allister Yeah, correct.
Juddy And I think I might have been one of those people that walked along there and pretty quickly recognised that you couldn't do the best by all of the species at once. And it was a really tricky bit because you're looking at plantain that had gone well past when it should have been grazed. But the red clover wasn't ready and it wasn't until.
Allister Chicory throwing a woody stem.
Juddy In the second year and it wasn't until he saw that at scale, that he kinda went, there's something not right here. So I think that's what we are in probably we were able to replicate in that in plot trials, but we first saw that when it was at Chris' with, you know, large number of animals going across that. So it was one of these situations where we can simplify the system and actually get a whole lot more out of it.
Allister Yeah, absolutely. And that really Glenn led on to a whole lot of projects in the mid to 2000, mid to late 2000s, which basically kicked off a hell of a phase for you and your animal systems work because you started to take it from small plots out into animal projects.
Juddy Yeah. And probably one of the first ones that we did do was really around the allowance work. And so what that allowed you to do is be able to allocate red clover to a group of animals based on the residual that they would leave at the end of that grazing period. So setting up rotations, what was under grazed, what was overgrazed. And so what ends up happening in the end is where you maximise animal performance. In terms of per hectare, it is exactly the same place where you actually maximise the amount grown. So this is really not too much about the animal, Allister I'm sad to say it is a more agronomic phenomenon where you're trying to grow the maximum amount of feed. And so we've got those, that data point, we we're able to show where we get the maximum production from those stands. I think some of the other work was around, as you mentioned earlier, that earliness of this particular plant surprised me. And so we were lambing hoggets down on this crop where we thought it was a whole lot later. So again, it was almost, and this is where I think really good research comes from. We see something that scale on farm and it's discovered on farm and fine tuned in some of our research work. So it's nothing new. It's just actually getting some parameters around that and understanding sometimes why, but certainly not the discovery as often its scale on some of those farms. So a lot of work around that. Then red clover entered into something we were looking at, meat quality, in particularly around taste but then later some chemistry work so looking at the power of that particular plant to drive not only growth rate, but changes in chemistry for example. So there's been a lot of work in that space that's been subsequently used in different programs. So yep, clover under a brassica becomes quite a powerful tool in whole sheep system.
Chris Also like one year took our hoggets and mated them on straight red clover, not mated them, lambed them down. Lambed them on straight red and then you had plantain and you had a good grass and a good grass and red clover and we got them back and tagged them, you know, if they'd been on the grass because you were saying well wonder what they'll be like getting back in lamb as a tutus which I did write down somewhere but probably never passed on. But the red clover ones on memory, they were the heaviest coming out of that trial.
Allister Significantly so.
Chris And it was interesting stuff with worms, you know, they just were doing well. So those tutus came back like bull elephants and the ones on the grass were good.
Allister Because technically, you're mating weights about 45 kgs for a hogget mating program, you're targeting around 45 I think you getting animals back between 55.
Chris I know there was some in the sixties, easily.
Allister This is animals in December, about ten months old.
Chris Now we target like the sheep breed we use, we breed an animal for the hill country of Banks Peninsula. So we're using Hamish de Latour Romneys. They're not big sheep, but they're tough and so we can actually target we target more than 40kgs for mating weight, I know they'll get in lamb less than that a lot of cross breeds won't to that point. Unless they've got a bit of composite on them so but I found that little trial you to there was interesting.
Allister So just to clarify what happened we were running a lactation project. And we compared all these species and what we're talking about there as we set stocked in September on these species. So that meant that we had done a lot of work on our plantain because, you know, we created this winter active plantain. And one of the first things we noticed is that it's live weight gain on sheep particularly was quite special in spring. And most of the work in history has always been done for summer live weight gain when other things are going off. But in spring we noticed that the plantain was quite special and we'd already done a bit of work on that. It's pretty cool. But then we set up this project that included the red clover and again, the red continues to surprise how strong it can be in September. And that creates this reliability of being able to put animals on, knowing it's going to continue to develop and grow underneath it. But just so the listeners understand what happened is that we brought these young animals on. We lamb them on these, we did the lactation phase on these, and we measured their offspring when they were weaned. We identified how efficient each system was by how many net prime weights. But we carried these ewe replacements out of this particular project on the same forages all the way through to mating. I don't believe that's ever been done before where the animal was born on a single forage and has only eaten that forage the whole of its life all the way through to mating, which is that big sort of mic drop opportunity to highlight that. As far as the historic awareness of phytoestrogen impacts of red clover goes, the clovers we've been discussing, the clovers we had at the time weren't obvious what exactly they were causing other than extremely good live weight gain, which may have overridden any subtle phytoestrogen effect that was going on with the animals.
Juddy Yeah, I think that's probably where we've landed these affects certainly red clover and particularly in some environments under pressure can cause measurable changes in terms of fertility in sheep. More fecundity, actually rather than fertility. But, certainly at scale we have seen that our lambing percentages aren't quite as high where we've got large amounts of red clover in some situations. But I think on the flip side of that where you're able to, particularly in nitrogen limiting environments and where equalities are a bit of an issue in terms of the resident ryegrass. If you have red clover in these systems, what we were able to demonstrate is firstly the size of those animals and far closer to mature body weight when they take the ram for the first time. And that is a huge effect in terms of fertility. But what we all could also show was that even being on there for such a long time, so not seeing any of the forage until they took the ram that we could actually not see in a relatively small sample size, admittedly, but we couldn't see any large concerning data in terms of the ability to conceive and produce a lamb. And so from that I think we could say. And some larger properties have gone and done that and have come to the same conclusion that there may be some small changes in terms of the fecundity of the flock, but overall the ability to have larger ewes and bigger lambs certainly overcomes from a systems point of view, any of that. So that’s been quite useful in that particular forage.
Allister Now the funny thing is now you can't be without it.
Chris And like a key point of the relationship was like farmers, visual I think, they see and look and see an animal that's doing well. Listen to the science behind the grass, the technical stuff. And if they can see it in their eyes, they follow and I followed up going to your guys at Kimihia and your trial plots and to see it in those plots tests, even when you're just doing your grass measuring by cutting, you can actually see stuff. And so you can then visualise how it fits and I think that's an important part too.
Juddy I think the other point is, and this was something that we were really always keen on, you know, if you can measure something you can kind of manage it. So some of the really good feedback that we got out of the scaling up that you were doing is we also got growth rates of lambs back because that's the proof in the pudding isn't it that you're actually seeing changes in terms of the productivity coming out of those. And so that was a really important point. This looks good actually, we've got some scales here, and we are seeing a difference. And I think that’s the critical part of that.
Allister There are two things that came from this because that relationship was so stimulating as we're sort of continuing to morph and develop that feed system for you. You know, you gave us this great opportunity to demonstrate what you were doing as well. You hosted a huge amount of Australian visitors for us through the 2000s, and that was a nice development in our relationship, too because then you're suddenly tuning in from being just a farmer to a host. And so you had a bit of experience, in the end, talking to Australians.
Chris I fell on that one basically because I was the only idiot in the district that wasn't growing arable crops or milking cows.
Allister That's right. Last standing sheep farmer. That's right and you know, just looking at it from that perspective, that extinction thing very much led on to another development in our relationship is that, you know, as a group we all came up with the concept of creating an agronomy group for the peninsula, which is quite remote. It's only about 1 to 1 and a half hours from Christchurch City. But some of the farmers on the peninsula are some of the remotest farmers in the whole country. I still, to this day can't believe how amazing some of the operators on Banks Peninsula are for what they put up with and how remote some of their properties and how difficult some of their properties actually are. In innovation between fertiliser company Balance, local Rural Supplies company, PGG Wrightsons and a group of you guys came up with the concept of creating an agronomy group and that kicked off a wee while ago now.
Chris Well, that came about like the Peninsular people are pretty good people. They get on and we share a lot. We actually share through the discussion group, we actually share our books through an independent. So, you know, we actually drop our pants and have a look at it, boots and all, rather than tell the good story at the pub. So we are keen to learn and there was a bit of agronomy happening originally and how it morphed because we're so hard to service, there was someone to read something. So I will put a red clover paddock in and it might of come out of a brown top point country with one spray full of barley grass and no fertiliser, no back up, no bugs, and then say, well, why didn't that work? So I'm being a little bit critical, but I'm not criticising the industry. The fact that we weren't getting service and there were two or three competing outfits bringing stuff over and the reps never stayed because there wasn't enough volume of work to warrant one of the companies to have them there. So that's when the Agronomy Group started, because there were farmers that had valley floors and some flats that could put a little bit. When I say a little bit, it might be five 10% of their property max. So only talking small, but it could be a little powerhouse on the peninsula rather than a big cartage cost to get an animal out to the plains and graze to grow that live weight, to get it to be productive as a young animal. So, you know, and I think I came to you Allister, in this group that had started and said, look, we need some advice on this thing and we need good advice, not generic advice. And really, we've got to talk about the systemization of it. First and foremost, we can all grow a crop. What do you put it through to make a value add to drop some money in your back pocket while you're doing it? And what's the first step, second step, third step and that I think that's been quite a successful little group, you know, and some guys over there now that are doing mini Canterbury Plains stuff. They've bought their own tractor and they've got a little bit of gear, so they aren't dependent on the non-existing contractors over there.
Allister So that's another thing about the location is that all the theoretical things you'd like to be able to just go and do. This environment is tough for the peninsula farmers because they don't have easy access to contractors. The topography means that again, it's helicopter or fixed wing plane spreading. It was not so interesting though, the first phase of that, because one of it is decluttering your thought processes that you've only got these really narrow windows of time to be effective and get a great response for your cost structure. And so one of the drums I beat pretty hard in the early days and actually every single time we turn up is about timing. And it's so interesting in an environment that can be drought affected, technically moderate to high rainfall environment that can actually be quite severely drought affected at times. Just how much you want to hold on to feed at the cost of hitting your primary timing for your next phase. And that was probably the single biggest message I gave in the most consistent way actually you only have one, two or three options. There are not dozens of options for this sort of land environment. And actually the biggest part of it all was getting your timing right because you do so much money on poor timing and create so much risk profile with poor timing. So I think it wasn't actually anything really significant we were bringing. But what we're bringing in is consistent messaging about, you know, timeframes of almost unconditional timeframes for activities, realising you don't actually have that many options. So don't overthink it. You've got one, two or three and there's not five, six, seven. And I was putting the option in like you said, to actually be able to leverage the most economics on the rest of your property out of that area. And so it didn't mean that all of a sudden you could be a finishing farm if you only had 3 to 5% cultivated land. But what could you do with that? If you didn't have a Leeston block, you might be able to do ewe lamb replacements, you might be able to make sure last lambing ewes or do something that you're going to get added value out of.
Chris Yeah, value out I think most of it is with a store market. Most of Bank Peninsula finished with some lambs of mum at the top end with chase percentage, so that generally can be 20 to 30% on a good year if you're weaning a big percentage. So it's a store property, they go off the hill country and they're finished somewhere else. And that rejection you get left with nowadays the 25 and under which the market supposedly doesn't want in early January. December is a bit of a string around your neck. And I think a lot of the guys over there at the moment are utilising that to value add on that lamb and they come back to the market now.
Allister So typically, that lamb gets traded successfully around that sort of 36 kilogram on farm or slightly lower.
Chris It can even go for a 20, 21, 22 kilo lamb, a little triplet or a late born twin being sold now, at a 30 kilo mark when the margins lifted because the cropping guys are in the game. It's just getting you through that pinch period.
Chris And then as you say, the ewes can go on and clean the crop up and then you're into your next phase. So that group's been it's been successful and you guys have bought a lot of value, because you keep coming back and because your messaging was simple. It was consistent, I think and simple, yeah until Juddy came over and added some animal nutrition stuff which complicated things.
Juddy Well I think as a kind of a summary. I think the situation was really that if you looked at it from a supplies company, you know, and that's probably why people didn't go over there because, you know you've got the tyranny of distance and the access isn't easy. You couldn't go and see, you know even four people in a day because you're driving so fast so the return for someone coming in and trying to get a quick return wasn't there. But what I could see quite clearly was for a small amount of effort from making the trip over there and doing it on a regular basis, the impact on the farms over there was massive, right? So you could actually change the system quite significantly if you had the right advice in terms of getting some of these crops in on a small area. But it changed everything. So I think that was the key where for a small impact, actually the impact on the properties was quite massive, even if it was just timing or being able to identify weeds or something or bugs and the ability for having those same people come back I think has been pretty useful. And I guess from our perspective, you go, well why did we keep coming back? And I think that was more around having really engaged farmers and you could see that without having to completely dismantle these systems. You know, making small changes was going to have a big impact on them. And I think that was probably the bit that hadn't been run through all the commercial models to say whether this will work or not. This was actually a situation where we could make a big difference with relatively little input. I've got to say, you know, driving over there, it is not the most unpleasant place to go and play on a Friday afternoon. So I think from that perspective, that kind of worked really well.
Allister Yeah. And we've been a bit remiss in just recent times. We haven't caught up on the peninsula within the last ten months or so. We've managed to get some of the farming community off the peninsula, which I think is a really important thing, is getting farmers off their farms and getting them to see other things. And I really always appreciate the individuals that take the time to come and visit us and we do always try to reach out to them, but it was so obvious that one of the other things is to stay positive because you then got hit by a terrible drought phase. And actually our place in that was actually quite small because the reality is you had needed the support from others and it would become very, very obvious that your networks actually came and supported you. So that was an interesting phase as well, watching that unfold.
Chris Yeah, it was. And having you at those area meetings and which we did in which you guys participated in and it just got people off farm thinking wider. It was that last drought we had that was generally like quite often we will be dry. We expect it to be summer dry. But you know, places that on the eastern base that have got double our rainfall, they dried out. So it wasn't picking friends and enemies that drought, it was nasty and carting stock in and out of Banks Peninsula was expensive as I said, finding grazing, you got to be at the front of the queue, not in the middle or the end because it just burns another hole in your pocket.
Allister In other words, you have got to get off early
Chris You got to get off early. And I think another side for that Agronomy Group has got people thinking when they were growing a crop, you know, what is the true cost of growing a young animal out and our MPP group got involved in trying to link up with Central Plains irrigation that couldn't get the land use change to deering and the whole lot of ex sort of sheep slash cropping farmers and doing the dairy graze, which means you get that ewe lamb off. We can get that off in December, January. The group it's grown out on the plains comes back as a 62 kilo tutus. They get a bonus if it's heavier they get a negative if it's less and they keep a lamb but it means we've got a class of stock going off. So again, you look at your property and going what does it do well? We can get ewe through a drought to a point. We can grow a ewe on poorer quality pasture. We can get her in lamb and produce so Bank Peninsula in my mind, structurally is very good at breeding animals. And if we could only get our industry more focused that we did that and we do that well, we're a 100% regen over there is a word that's not a new word to me. Our farm has always been farmed regen, and it always be.
Chris But we're not, I don't think we're getting a decent bounce off us producing a really healthy lamb all on the hill. Exit it to the flats get your in other companies grasses pump through those animals and grow in an industry best of 250 plus grams and there's your greenhouse footprint on that animal gone but I think a lot of our guys learnt that and a lot of our guys have actually, you know, as a policy are doing what we are doing and they are getting their ewe lambs off there blocks. They've got more ewes on board so you're doing what you do, do well dating someone else at that live weight or easily on the plain where they can control it a little bit with irrigation or crop residue.
Allister I reckon that's a really important message to tease out for people unfamiliar with our landscapes, because the Canterbury Plains is a very diverse farming environment. It's got irrigation, some of it's unirrigated, but it's light free draining soils. Typically, irrigations change the world as it does wherever it goes typically, but it's has come at a huge cost to some of the people who are receiving water now. And due to environmental limitations, it's not always easy to transfer that irrigated land to the most profitable farming system now in New Zealand. And so you have to form relationships. And this concept of very traditional sheep and beef breeding farms in a location like Banks Peninsula. Quite often the burden was solely dictated by the land, the primary property. But now this concept of actually recognising that you can share your stock with others, you can get them to do a professional job, form long term relationships with individuals and get others to do your heavy lifting, basically on growing out young stock and doing it well and then multiplying it, as you've just described, is quite an important thing from a New Zealand farming perspective. There's a lot of trust in the industry, a lot of professional people forming relationships like this. And even though everyone has their own business person, you know, I sense that it's the trust and the professional nature of which we go and do this is actually giving options to the peninsula as a good example.
Juddy So Allister, I think it's been a fascinating chat with Chris. Probably get you to sum up, what are the key take homes in terms of what we've heard today.
Allister Well, I think what we've done by bringing Chris on and just reaching into what's created a relationship with us has highlighted, a thoughtful farmer who was definitely always trying to progress, develop, survive initially, but progress and take opportunities whenever they rose and because of those opportunities was seeking advice that they could make sense of seeking relationships that they could see has been consistent. And then the key is being proactive enough to actually try things and then bring in people to interpret what they are achieving. And I feel that probably sits at the heart of the discussion in the relationship is that it wasn't about buying something and using it and then not thinking about it again. It was actually incorporating something in a business model and then actually interpreting what was coming from it. And Chris, I normally summarise it nice and cleanly, but I feel I'd like to just reach out and ask, is that how you see what's going on there over time? Because I sense our relationship about refining your adventurous sort of approach to trying to keep moving forward.
Chris It is definitely and the proof in the pudding, as you say from a farming perspective to see what you guys are doing in your trial plots. And so I think that's, you know, critical that you read the guff, you hear what you should be doing. You need to go and see it. Like Marshdale is a great example of seeing in action animals going through or you proprietress so you can see it and then formulate in your head, can I do that? Where can I do that? Then ask the question why? Then ask the question from that in your head, then ask you guys to have a bit of a session and go, well, actually, you know, you're pushing your boundary here. You're not going to grow that. So you get to a point when then you push go and when you push go and you get the truck out and spray out your pasture and you spend the money, you know you're seeing it and you're paying the bill on the 20th a month, and then you get the monitoring going through, you know, the weeds, the fertiliser, everything. You've got to try and give yourself a chance to grow a crop. It's as close to 100% which you'll never get because it's a 50%, you know, you might as well not bothered, you know, it's costing you money and then you've got, then it falls back on you being strategic about how you put an animal through that crop. For us it's an animal or it's a baleage harvester its whatever through that and make a return on it and then you can come back and one of the keys for us is we've got a very young Shepard and Peter Benny, who won't be listening to a podcast because he doesn't know how to probably, but he's just an excellent guy and he's a stockman. He's out there and he sees stuff, he reads animals, he reads when they're not comfortable, when they're not happy, he puts more electric fences. He said I put more bloody electric fences up out here than the dairy farmers do and attention to detail. So yes, you can grow a good crop, but if you don't manage the crop right, if you lose quality, you've got a problem, a different problem to get it back into shape. And there's nothing easy about doing that. It takes time and you don't get it right.
Allister And I feel that's the key, is that we've always redress that. We've always looked at that and actually refined it. And I sense that, you know, when I look at a long term relationship, again, it's about actually doing something and then just not sitting back but looking at it, interpreting it didn't meet expectations. What can we redefine, refine and you know, what will it take to make more money out of it and then get the heart and soul of your interpretation of those things. That's the bigger driver is, you know, what can I do to change, subtly change what I'm doing to make more money out of the investment I'm making. And I feel we've just been in a constant evolution from which we've benefited from Glenn. With so many of these sort of prompts for future work and future research coming out of this relationship. So I think that probably does sum up where we were at and for our first visitor Chris. Thank you very much that's been a great experience.
Chris Sorry to but in but just add on before your finale is that I have to be very careful that the our core business is still Putiki the breeding block so I can't take my eyes off that. What I've got at Leeston is absolute key and people say oh what does that value add to your business? And it's not as black and white as just saying, I go, I put a lamb through there and I took it from 28 kilos to bloody 48 and I killed it at 20-24 kilos. It is having young animals sitting there, it has been able to bring light ewes over bring them back. There's a whole lot of little intricacies that make our Putiki business more robust for the fact that we can go there and we have to drive Leeston hard on our value add on a young stock, but we also put other animals through there at a whim. And so when we're talking about a margin trade, we already own it. It's parked on our farm. It's been born on that beautiful property with great views and no food. Yeah, and we can then send it out to finish it. So I think it's a key not to get too bogged down in one corner of your business and it is technical what you guys do, and that's from my perspective, advice is only good when it's good advice. And you know, I've got a trust basis with you guys. I ring you quite a lot. If we get an animal dying out there I ring Juddy and he sees it smells like Clostridial. Chris. Have you done your five in one program? So, look, there's a whole lot of little things that you guys are actually there and available to ask a question to get into more detail about solving a problem, which I think is terrific.
Juddy Oh, well, I think the electric motorbike will be fully charged. So we probably need to get on with the day and hope you've enjoyed the podcast. Thank you. All right, Alister, a new segment on our podcast. We've got Lara from Marketing.