The solution to ensuring continued success and growth of Wairarapa’s Wairere Genetics business lies with a team of twenty-somethings who are relishing the challenge. John Watson met up with Generation Wai.
Wairere Station owner Derek Daniell knows all too well the importance of having a succession plan in place. After the tragic death of his father John in 1983, Derek was thrust into the role of studmaster on the 1200ha (1070ha effective) Wairarapa hill-country property.
The fact is that he not only managed to seamlessly continue the running of the climatically tough land, but grow the ram breeding enterprise to become New Zealand’s foremost producer of Romney rams and breeder of composite, terminal and half-bred rams.
While none of Derek and wife Chris’s three children – who are pursuing their own successful careers off-farm – are putting their hands up to take over the reins in the near future, the solution to ensuring continued success and growth lies with a team of twenty-somethings who are relishing the challenge.
The “old” crew of Derek, Andrew Puddy and Simon Buckley are still vital to the business, but it’s become more a case of investing in technology and letting the new breed do what comes naturally to them.
The technology introduced in recent times includes AgRecord’s Cloud Farmer software that gives the staff tools to plan their work schedules and to communicate and collaborate their operational information, an EID system (Tru-Test’s XR5000) that makes for accurate and fast animal identification of every head of stock on the station, and a Pratley five-way auto drafter.
Having the technology is one thing, but using it to its full potential is another. Head shepherd and former station 2IC, Jacques Reinhardt, was quick to see the potential these tools offered and upskilled himself in their efficient application. From there, it was a natural progression to taking on the day-to-day farm management and moulding a like-minded team to work under him.
In an operation like Wairere, with 10,000 SIL-recorded ewes and where 3500 rams a year are sold, customer service is crucial and the co-ordination of satellite and partnership farms is a huge task in itself. These are the areas Derek, Andrew and Simon can channel their energies, knowing the animal husbandry and farm management are in good hands.
All stock have been ear-tagged with plastic wrap-around EID tags that are pre-programmed to provide traceability to any necessary information. Lambing time is crucial in ensuring the right lambs are attributed to the right mother. This involves good old-fashioned lambing beats on horseback with stockmanship skills to get to as close to 100% accuracy as possible.
From this time forward, this identification provides not only the lamb’s heritage but tracks everything from its weight gains to its body scoring and eye muscle measurements.
Whenever the lambs come through the yards now, they can be monitored and have information gathered that will give future ram buyers a comprehensive history and ancestory of their purchase.
Working with Jacques in this team are Matt Watson, Darren Jackson, Tom Gordon, Nicholas Butler and Dayanne Almeida, who also combines this practical work with her post-grad studies toward a Master of Animal Science. Attending to the station’s maintenance is Rob Meulinbroek, who keeps the place neat as a pin and teaches the young shepherds plenty about fencing. His wife Hannah has moved into an administrative role and manages the office work.
A feature of this team is their ability to work hard in a demanding job while enjoying each other’s company outside work hours.
Jacques knows that he can get the best out of the workers during the day and enjoy a social game of indoor soccer, attend dog trials and have trips away fishing or attending big-city events in their spare time.
For a Hawke’s Bay “townie” who grew up in Havelock North, Jacques Reinhardt has done
extraordinarily well to be managing a large sheep station in Wairarapa just four years after joining the staff as 2IC.
Watching him at work, his calm demeanour belies his age and relative inexperience. At any one time he can have staff working on four or five different tasks and be receiving calls from stock agents, trucking companies, vets or clients all wanting something done or questions answered.
The time-saving technology that he totally embraced and mastered over the past 18 months, coupled with capable deputies in his team, has given the 27-year-old the platform on which he can handle the demands of a varied and busy job.
His path to a farming career started with a love of helping uncles on their farms during his school holidays to a couple of farming jobs on coastal Hawke’s Bay properties, then an OE trip to the United States working on a ranch and finally a temporary management job at Wharekauhau in southern Wairarapa. It was here he met Casey, who he’s now engaged to and they have a young son. Jacques knows he still has plenty to learn and credits Derek Daniell and Simon Buckley with his progression over the past four years.
“Derek is pretty left-field with his thinking and keeps everyone on their toes. He challenges us and always keeps us thinking and considering options and other ways to do things,” Jacques says.
“Simon’s knowledge of farming skills and stockmanship has been invaluable and he’s taught me to see the bigger picture, better grazing management and how the genetics game works.
“Andrew Puddy has been an awesome sounding board also and really knows how to look after our clients.”
In his spare time, Jacques enjoys socialising with his workmates. He’s a keen dog trialler and rugby player, but also enjoys looking at other ways he can use computer software to give him more options with drafting and grouping stock types.
While Wairere has its challenges, he loves the team environment and working in a renowned stud business with the diversity of hill-country farming. As an added bonus, he gets to work with and meet a variety of top-class people in the farming industry.
The pathway to Wairere for Matt Watson has seen him working briefly on stations in Taihape and Southland, but he’s mainly worked for Read Farms at Makuri in the Tararua hills for about five years.
Since leaving Feilding High School in 2008 with the top agriculture prize from Primary ITO to his name, Matt worked his way up to a stock management role at Makuri. While there he met Jacques Reinhardt at several dog trials and became aware of the vacancy for a senior stockman at Wairere.
Wanting to broaden his experience and be involved in a stud farming environment, Matt successfully applied for and became 2IC of the stock team to Jacques just before lambing time last year. They share a love of dog trialling and they seem to complement each other in the day-to-day running of the station.
From an early age living on a small block of land in Taihape, Matt was a natural with livestock. Staying with friends on farms during holidays, he was always keen to help with whatever farm chore needed doing, and so at secondary school it was an obvious choice for him to concentrate mainly on agricultural subjects and get practical work experience.
He sees his role at Wairere as a chance to further his knowledge of sheep farming. He’d eventually like to progress to a managerial position, or look at leasing a farm or entering into an equity partnership.
It was a big culture gap between city-life Auckland and Wairere Station for Darren Jackson but when faced with going back to school or embarking on a farming career it was a no-brainer. He applied for a spot at Taratahi Farm Training Centre in 2011 and moved away from home.
During holidays later that year, Darren helped out with the docking at Wairere and got interested in staying full-time. At the start of 2012 he became a junior shepherd on the station and stayed for two and a half years. He found the work varied and interesting, built-up a good team of dogs and gained valuable experience.
Halfway through 2014 he left to join Ohinewairua Station’s staff on the Napier-Taihape Rd. He really enjoyed the camaraderie while there, and left only to pursue an opportunity in the South Island that didn’t turn out to be what he expected. He left after a couple of months and travelled around doing seasonal work, finishing-up at a station near Kurow – a job that varied from intensive flat-land farming to steep hill-country Merino work.
Darren had kept in touch with Jacques Reinhardt at Wairere, and when a vacancy on the station came up last year, he was keen to get back to where he’d started out.
Arriving at the beginning of September, he found there’d been changes in the management team and the introduction of some really interesting technology. Now everything was being accurately and speedily recorded with the use of the XR5000. Instead of painstakingly reading every brass tag of sheep up the race, the job was being done while weighing and five-way drafting was now common.
Another development was the use of Cloud Farmer whereby everyone was kept informed and in-touch with the day-to-day activities. Now animal health reports, stock rotations and kill sheets are available to all staff.
One of Darren’s new roles is to liaise with the owners of the farms that graze Wairere lambs at several North Island locations, and to monitor the data collecting when needed.
Armed with a weigh crate and the XR5000 wands, he’s able to ensure that wherever their lambs are they’re being included in the stud’s ongoing recording. He also helps with their mothering-up during lambing, culling sessions, eye-muscle scanning and selection of rams to come back to Wairere for sale.
In recent times Darren has found a new area in which to excel. Encouraged by his work mates to enter his dog in a Wairarapa handy-dog trial, they ended-up winning the maiden section and followed it up with winning the North Island, then NZ maiden handy-dog trials.
Being brought up an only-child by his mother in Hawke’s Bay after his father died when he was a toddler, Tom Gordon spent much of his youth on a farm with his paternal grandfather. He showed plenty of natural ability with livestock and developed a love of all things rural, even though his schooling took place in Havelock North where his mother lives.
When he was told of the opportunities offered by Taratahi Agriculture Training Centre near Masterton, Tom saw a pathway towards his ultimate dream: farm management.
In 2013 while doing the first-year course he spent three days at Wairere during ram selling and found the work challenging but rewarding. Seeing first-hand the sale of rams that had been meticulously prepared gave him an insight into the commercial side of sheep farming. He was encouraged to apply for a $6000 scholarship from Wairere that included an exchange trip to Walford Agriculture Centre in the United Kingdom.
He had to complete the second-year course and was contracted to a minimum two-year employment on the station. That finishes this July and while loving the Wairere environment he’s looking to broaden his experience with a stint in the South Island high country, and then on some other farming operations. He has also targeted a Lincoln Diploma of Agriculture next year, facilitated by Taratahi, attaining NCEA Levels 5 and 6.
Ultimately, Tom has set himself a goal of farm management by the age of 30.
“I’ll find it hard to leave Wairere – it’ll be like leaving home again, but I need to keep moving to take that next step up.
“This has been my first job, and there’s such an awesome team here and there may be a chance to come back one day in a more senior role.”
One aspect of working at Wairere that really appeals to Tom is that it challenges him mentally as well as physically.
“Stud work gives me a chance to use the brain instead of just chasing sheep. Looking at the heritability of the stock and what effect those rams will have on sheep in NZ in four or five years time really stimulates me.”
Opening career doors
Another young shepherd to come to Wairere from a townie upbringing is Nicholas Butler from Wanganui.
Nico, as he’s known, used to spend his spare time as a teenager going deer hunting in the hills around Wanganui and towards Taranaki. He soon found that the best way to get permission for access from farmers was to offer his services doing the odd day’s work.
This taste of farming life gave him the incentive to learn more about it so he applied for the two-year Diploma of Agriculture through Telford Training Centre near Balclutha. In-between semesters, Nico got a job at Wairere and while at Telford got more practical experience by helping the manager on weekends.
As soon as he finished the course late last year Nico headed back to Wairere. He’d seen how well the team operated and was keen to put some of his learned theory into practice. He loves the environment at Wairere and especially enjoys mustering on horseback and getting advice on handling dogs and stockmanship.
Nico aims to stay for a couple of years before moving on so he can get to do everything twice, thereby learning more. He expects the Wairere experience will open doors elsewhere, and ultimately he’d be keen to be a farm manager.
Brazilian sheep nut
Dayanne Martins Almeida is a self-described Brazilian nut. She hails from small-town Brazil and attended Sao Paulo State University to study animal science.
She first experienced contact with sheep farming while at Sao Paulo State and became absolutely nuts over everything to do with their breeding and performance recording. The past 10 years have seen her realising a dream to learn from NZ sheep farmers – “the best in the world” – and get into a situation where she can impart her knowledge to help her compatriots in Brazil develop their own sheep industry.
Sheer guts and determination have been required to get to this point. Needing to do a six-month internship in her last year at university Dayanne set her sights on NZ despite the fact she spoke no English and knew nobody in this part of the world.
She drafted an email outlining her desire, and had an English-speaking friend in London translate it for her. She then Googled breed societies in NZ and forwarded the email to about 500 sheep breeders. Eventually she got one reply from Robin Hilson of One Stop Ram Shop (OSRS) in Central Hawke’s Bay, and that was enough to get her packing.
It was a tough first six months despite the kindness and assistance from Robin, his partner Joy Gray and their manager Colin Burlace. With nothing to do other than teach herself English through reading and translating children’s books, Dayanne threw herself into the work on this diverse sheep stud and managed to graft her way up from being a “working tourist” to a valued member of the OSRS team, working for them over the next five years.
The more she learned about sheep breeding and genetic gains, the more she realised how behind the times the industry was back in Brazil. Feedlot feeding and indoor farming is common but performance recording and animal health and nutrition are low priorities.
The benchmark for success in Brazil is how many ribbons they win at agriculture shows. There’s little attention paid to production improvement despite a huge local trade market that Brazilian sheep farmers come nowhere close to meeting.
To address this, Dayanne and a couple of colleagues established a company to help Brazilian sheep farmers improve their incomes. She left this business in 2011 to start her own business through which she travels home on a regular basis to speak at conferences, workshops, field days and lecture theatres. She has also spoken to farmers in the United Kingdom, Iran and Georgia. She writes technical articles as well as a blog for her 6000-plus subscribers and clients.
Dayanne is now doing a Masters in Sheep Genetics at Massey University while gaining more practical experience at Wairere. She met Derek Daniell in 2014 when a group of Wairarapa and Hawke’s Bay farmers were visiting Brazil as part of a South American farm tour. There are a number of trials Wairere is involved in – along with PBBNZ Ltd, Beef + Lamb NZ Genetics, Alliance and vet Sara Sutherland – from body condition scoring at specific stages to triplet survival and growth, taste testing and the structural soundness of feet and jaws. The advances made in recording data have opened-up all sorts of possibilities and Dayanne has found the perfect environment and team to further her own development, and ultimately that of her own country’s sheep industry.
Under the mentorship of Professor Hugh Blair, Dayanne will be using body condition scoring to assess how it affects every aspect of sheep productivity. The first part of her thesis will use this to measure efficiency and to calculate and compare reproduction traits – heritability and so on – and survivability.
Look out for future articles in Country-Wide on Dayanne’s research.