Tautane Station was purchased in May 2013 by Ngati Kahungunu Iwi and immediately leased to Taratahi – a perfect fit, given the Iwi’sfocus on the property’s cultural significance and the steady flow of young Maori people of Ngati Kahungunu whakapapa now training on the property. Groups of seven students – generally aged 16-19 years old – live and work on the station in two-week blocks throughout the year.
The 3700-hectare station is managed by Matt Smith (pictured), who strongly supports the property’s involvement in the Beef Progeny Test. “Because of the significant educational aspect of our operation, there is the added benefit of getting students used to research and technology. They see what technology can do on farm and good farm practices. It’s great for students to be involved in industry-good research and see how we objectively measure and monitor in the trials.”
Tautane Station’s effective area totals 3375 hectares, with about 100 hectares in flats, two thirds in easy hill and the balance in steep, coastal hill country. Its eastern boundary is 12 kilometres of coastline. The 29,500 stock units include 600 mixed-age Angus cows, 180 rising-two-year-old and 200 rising-one-year-old heifers. The cattle are there to support and complement the sheep operation, which consists of 17,500 mixed-age Romney ewes and 5500 ewe hoggets.
There are four permanent staff on the farm, as well at Matt’s wife Claire, who works part-time for Taratahi in a pastoral care role with the young students.
Electronic identification and intensive monitoring are all in a day’s work. Matt and the team do a lot of weighing and also scan and foetal age, to fine tune grazing and animal management.
With relatively new ownership and management, the cattle policy is flexible – it can change and that’s largely dictated by the season. Currently, all weaners are sold on farm, except for the 200 heifer replacements.
“The cows are big – about 600 kilograms. We’d like to concentrate on a slightly smaller framed animal focusing on their efficiency. They generally wean steer calves of 250 kilograms, so if we could get cow size down to 550-570 kilograms, the aim is for the cow to wean half her body weight. We aim to have cows at a condition score of seven throughout the year. They are set stocked for calving and spend the winter behind a wire cleaning up paddocks and can do it a bit hard at times, so they need to be an animal that can handle that and the hills. We also want quiet animals with good growth rates.”
Bulls are first selected on type, before their eBVs are reviewed.
“A lot of people are in one camp or the other – eBVs or type – when it comes to bull selection. I see room for both approaches and that’s why Taratahi was keen to get involved in the Beef Progeny Test.
“We want a cattle beast that’s sound, a good type but one that performs - has good conformation, gets in calf as a yearling, produces a live calf to weaning every year and that can bounce back quickly from a tough season. We are focused on the maternal side of things as that drives our production system.”
Tautane purchases its main bulls from Twin Oaks (Roger and Susan Hayward) in South Canterbury and low birthweight bulls from Waigroup (Willy Falloon, Masterton) for mating to the 15-month heifers.
“When we’re picking bulls, we look at the type of bull first, closely followed by the eBV’s. We want a good meaty bull, with good feet and good bone, then we look at the EBVs concentrating on 200-day weight, milk and self replacing index. We are careful not to focus solely on these traits, as the carcase traits are also important.”
The B+LNZ Genetics Beef Progeny Test involves artificially inseminating (AI) 383 of Tautane Station’s mixed-age cows in the 2014/15 and again in the 2015/16 season.
The cows are DNA recorded before being inseminated with semen from a range of both international and New Zealand-bred sires, with genetics selected to represent a broad range of types, from quite moderate bulls through to bulls which have strong emphasis on carcass attributes.
All progeny are then tracked, with their parentage verified through DNA. Steers and cull heifers will be assessed on their carcase traits, while replacement heifers will be tracked for their maternal characteristics.
Matt says AI was less drama than he had anticipated. “We did it over two days to take the pressure off and to avoid having too many cows coming and going from the yards at one time.”