Northland Winners

Temataa Station intensive beef and sheep farmers Dennis and Rachelle O'Callaghan

Northland BFEA Supreme Winners

Dennis and Rachelle O'Callaghan


Temataa Station intensive beef and sheep farmers Dennis and Rachelle O'Callaghan are the Supreme winners of the 2016 Northland Ballance Farm Environment Awards (BFEA).

Dennis and Rachelle O’Callaghan have farmed sheep and beef cattle on Temataa since 2000, at that time half owned by them and the other half leased off Rachelle’s father Winston Matthews. Three years ago they were able to purchase the leased portion and now own the full 610ha.

Intensive beef systems (IBS), both Technosystem laneways and cellular systems, now cover 400ha and are stocked with breeding cows, young bulls and two-year bulls. The rest of the big farm is set stocked with cattle and sheep, although there are plans to reduce sheep numbers in favour of more IBS cattle.

Total annual meat production from the effective area of 550ha is an average of 303kg/ha, due to the high productivity of the IBS, and far exceeding what was achieved between 2002 and 2004 before the IBS development began.The IBS laneways run across the hills to help slow down water movement and the two-day shifts help minimize pugging and eliminate sediment loss.

The judges said the O’Callaghans demonstrated the highest standards of industry best-practice, including health and safety, mentoring of young staff, good worklife balance, and farm succession. The O’Callaghans demonstrated a strong understanding of the limitations and challenges of the soils on Temataa Station, the judges said.

The soils range from Hukerenui silt loams at the back of the farm to Waipu sand at the front, nearest Doubtless Bay. They are predominantly poorly to very poorly drained old soils, some with a shallow pan. The judges said the matching of livestock classes to soil types and land classes was a real strength for Dennis O’Callaghan, who also managed wet conditions well.

All cattle were kept in small mobs and shifted every second day to protect the root structure of the grass and allow for a rapid recovery from grazing.

To avoid pugging livestock were moved daily if paddocks were getting too wet and areas with springs were skipped over if damage was likely to occur.

Another benefit of the intensive beef systems (IBS) was the improvement in soil structure, which had suffered under the previous set-stocking management. Nutrient run-off was minimized through the combined effects of IBS, maintaining good soil structure, water management and the use of slow-release phosphate fertiliser.

The O’Callaghans said their focus over the past 15 years had been to develop a farm that was economically and environmentally sustainable.

In the past the soils were damaged every winter, production was poor and the Doubtless Bay environment suffered from sediment and nutrient run-off.

The O’Callaghans said development process had been in this order:

• To minimise soil damage.
• To improve pasture quality and fertility.
• To protect the waterways from run-off of soil and nutrients, and
• To plant trees for shelter, erosion prevention and beautification.

It was only now, along with the ownership of the second part of the farm, that permanent or winter-only retirement from grazing of wet areas, and the planting of shelter species, was happening.

Profitability had come from the pioneering of intensive beef systems and the business had paid off debt and could now fund development from earnings. Sheep production had been good by Northland standards (lambing 140%) at over 20,000kg of lamb meat sold and 185kg/ha of carcass weight (CW). But intensive beef had produced 335kg/ ha CW and this led to the decision to keep converting sheep paddocks to IBS, concentrating on the front of the property and the recently acquired land.

The highest point of the property, the 11.65ha Trigg paddock, would be left for sheep only because it is a pa site.

The O’Callaghans had seen improved pasture composition as a result of the IBS development. Dennis said the conversion of paddocks to IBS cost around $2000/ha, three-quarters of which was spent on the purchase of more trading cattle. He said this was actually $500/ha cheaper than regrassing.

The breeding cows were kept in the system to provide some insurance against possible high calf prices when loading up the IBS with trading cattle. Cows also control rampant kikuyu.

The judges said the O’Callaghans were fully aware that water was a key risk to their business and had an indepth understanding of the property requirements. Significant investment had gone into the water system at Temataa Station to create what was described as a “simple and foolproof system”.

What stood out for the judges was the monitoring and flexibility of the water system. The property has four spring-fed dams with a large storage capacity for the summer dry coastal location. Water is pumped to tanks on the farm and gravity fed around the farm. The reticulation is fully interlinked which allowed for any dam to feed any part of the water system.

In addition water levels and flows were able to be monitored remotely which allowed for rapid identification of leaks and all farm vehicles carried water fittings to enable quick fixes.

The O’Callaghans were Beef + Lamb New Zealand monitor farmers for three years and have held a number of field days since to promote the use of IBS.

“We have made it a habit to be open to new ideas and meaningful change and we believe there is always room for improvement,” they said.

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