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Omega Lamb Project farm focus

Quick facts:

Location: Hakataramea Valley, North Otago
Scale: 6000 ha (5,300 effective)
Topography: 4650 ha flat to rolling, remainder hill
Rainfall: 530mm
Irrigation: 200 ha by centre pivot, 200 ha K line and rotor rainers
Joined Headwaters: 2013 (previously Perendales and Highlanders)
Omega Lamb Project pilot farm: From 2014
SU: 38,000 – 15,500 ewes, 400 beef cows, finishing 15 to 20k lambs
Owner: Lone Star Farms
Staff numbers: 9

Caberfeidh in the Hakataramea Valley in North Otago is a relative newcomer to the Omega Lamb Project, but also fast out of the blocks. Visit [insert website link] to find out how Andrew Harding and Jason Sutherland are discovering the importance of integration between a breeder and finisher and learn about the highs and lows of their journey so far.

A relative newcomer to Headwaters, Caberfeidh is already at the heart of The Omega Lamb Project.

“Once we get involved with something, we give it 110% – you get us involved and we just can’t stop,” farm manager Andrew Harding says.

Andrew has served his time with high performing lamb-fattening forages under irrigation in extreme climates.

He managed 4000 ha of lucerne on a finishing unit in Paerau in the south-west corner of the Maniototo before joining Caberfeidh in 2010, where the team manages 800 ha of lucerne and 1800 ha of lucerne mixes.

“We haven’t sown a ryegrass plant for five years,” he says.

“For us, ryegrass under irrigation isn’t good – it’s too cold and too hot here. A ground temperature between 20 and 22 degrees in January and February isn’t much good for a plant which stops growing at 17 degrees.”

Caberfeidh diversified into chicory in 2014 with a trial planting of 15 ha, and added 65 ha last year as an Omega Lamb Project pilot farm.

He says the management principles for chicory are similar to lucerne, “but it’s a lot trickier and more sensitive to its environment.”

“We had 10 days in January with 80mm of heaven-sent rain, but the chicory didn’t budge during all that time. It was saying: “I don’t like this so I won’t grow now’.

“But when things grow around here, it really grows. Managing chicory is a special skill when it’s romping away at 150Kg DM a day. We had 8,200 lambs on it over the summer and I know we wouldn’t have done this with anything else.”

Andrew says the most important asset in an Omega Lamb Project forage farm is an open mind.

“Jason (Sutherland) has done a magnificent job managing the crop in the first year but we’re still on a steep learning curve.

“You can’t say hard-and-fast ‘this is the way I’m going to manage it’ because if you do, you’re not going to learn how to manage it.

“You also have to push boundaries. We were prepared for 30-40% (of the chicory) not to survive into year two because we pushed it hard in places, but it’s bouncing back. We’ve learned a lot from that.”

Caberfeidh has also learned the importance of getting lambs on to the chicory “sooner than you think”.

“You know it’s going to get hot and you know it’s going to grow fast and you can’t let it get away on you,” Andrew says. “If you let it get above 20cms, the lambs will trample it and utilisation will be way down.”

A big question for Caberfeidh and the Omega Lamb Project team is chicory’s longevity. Andrew’s fully aware of this, but says he’s more interested in the longer-term rotation costs and return.

“It’s what you do with the land over a six year period that’s of most interest to us – how chicory can complement a broader rotation plan that includes fodder beet.”

Caberfeidh achieved a record 158 percent lambing in 2015, much of which Andrew attributes to genetic gain. The team says they’re also excited by the look of the progeny.

“We like the way they look. They’re ‘barrelly’ sheep, not short and stubby or too rangy and they have a presence about them. They look like good mothers.”

The goal is that every ewe has at least a condition score 3 year-round. The ewes are all condition scored five times a year.

“A lot of people talk about weight but a good ewe for us is one that weans two 35kg lambs at 90 days at conditions core 3.”

The drought brought weaning forward 20 days this year. Around 3% of ewes were under conditions score 3, and 1% were under conditions score 3 when they went to the ram.

Andrew says the Caberfeidh team is conscious of blazing a trail with the Omega Lamb Project, and the responsibilities and challenges that come with that.

“The first thing people tend to say when you’re doing something different is to highlight all the things that could go wrong with it. That’s even more motivation for us to make a real success of this – financially, environmentally, in animal health, in people development and in product difference.”