When Kerry and Gaye Barnes sold their Reporoa dairy farm in June 2017, it was with the intention of finding a change of lifestyle and working shorter hours in less physically demanding situations.
To date they haven’t achieved that, but they have achieved significant improvements in a very short time to the 130 ha drystock unit they bought at Manawahe near Whakatane.
The former dairy farm, converted to deer, was run down, but its location and potential appealed to the couple.
The Barnes’ wasted no time in bringing the farm back to its full potential, and so impressed were the neighbours with what they achieved, they encouraged Kerry and Gaye to enter the 2018 Ballance Farm Environment Awards.
“There’s so much more that needs doing, and entering now seemed too early for us, but the judging process has been really helpful in giving us advice and ideas for the future,” says Kerry.
For 22 years, the couple had milked 350 cows on a 130 ha (115 effective) farm at Reporoa, with 100 ha under irrigation. “It was a beautiful farm but I was working 12-to-16 hours a day,” says Kerry.
“With the drop in the dairy pay out, we couldn’t afford to put a manager on. We talked about where we wanted to be in five years, and realised it was not doing what we were doing then.”
So the farm was sold and the search began for a dry stock block. Gaye and Kerry had no idea where Manawahe was, but when they saw the farm, they decided it was for them despite the work that was required.
Since taking over in June, new yards have been built, races constructed and work has begun on an extensive water reticulation system, tapping a bore and pumping to header tanks to gravity feed the stock troughs.
“Plenty of drinking water is vital to stock growth,” adds Kerry. “Without it, they won’t eat so much or put on condition.”
Significant infestations of ragwort were tackled early on, to enable silage to be made before Christmas for supplementary feed. Kerry has spent long hours spraying blackberry too.
Once the water system is complete, the next step will be re-fencing and sub-dividing paddocks where required. The soils are free draining sandy loam, prone to erosion if top soil is removed, so controlling slip areas is a priority. Waterways will be fenced out and bush areas protected.
A programme of shooting rabbits and laying poison bait stations for rats is also underway.
The Manawahe area and drystock farming are new to the Barnes’, so they have called on the advice of Mark McIntosh, who had been their consultant when they were dairy farming.
“Mark has helped us work out stocking rates throughout the season on the farm, which at 400 metres above seas level, we believe to be summer-safe as far as dry conditions go.”
In early summer, 115 hectare of effective pasture carried 84 dairy cows, 87 heifers, 120 calves and 13 bulls. “As our stock are sold we will be replacing them with graziers stock of approximately 350 head by June.”
It’s been non-stop work since Gaye and Kerry bought the farm, but the aim is to get it set up so they can, eventually, slow down a little.
“Gaye and I always believe a well set up property is more efficiently run and productive and is more enjoyable to work on.
“The hours I’m working now are not so bad – I do get to sleep in until 6am instead of getting up at 4.30am,” says Kerry.