Diversification with a bang – Graham Smith

I thought before I go on about the farm, I would recap my current situation. This is a small farm with a small herd, 80 cows, and there has been a need to diversify to defy the trend of small farms merging into bigger ones. My decision to go with timber has been a good call and my Paulownia timber business is growing every month. It has made the difference between struggling to pay the bills to feeling comfortable that the bank is happy. Incidentally, my bank is Rabobank and they have been very supportive and understand where I am heading. The other banks all wrote me off in 2001 after my divorce, so I feel lucky there is actually a farmer’s bank.

I also went with duck breeding, initially for meat, but soon learned the market really was not there, let alone the hygiene needs. That morphed into duck eggs which were very popular but marginal returns on labour and feed. So, the ducks have flown, so to speak, and I have just a few hanging around because I like them. Those few multiplied into 50 in one year, but I managed to sell them to a young go-getter who is into eggs for the Auckland Asian market. He collects the eggs every day and incubates them for 10 days. He candles the eggs and sells those with partially grown embryos for $36 per dozen. The rest are made into salted eggs, another delicacy. Good on him for making it work, and he has a good future ahead of him as he builds to 3000 ducks!

Our other foray was into tourism which worked moderately well. We traded on the fact of having a prime trout stream to reel in the tourists. Although they came in, it was not in sufficient numbers to keep us really busy, with no business through the winter. Well tourism is shot, for how long? Your guess would be as good as mine, so roll with the punches and trade on the housing shortage and now we rent the accommodation out to a young couple expecting their first child. Income is less on a nightly basis, but conversely the income is regular now and we don’t have to run around making beds and getting ready for the next visitors.

So, diversification has worked for us, but do note that doesn’t mean we have stopped having to think to survive. Being aware of events and trends has allowed us to capitalise by being flexible and not stuck in the rut we know.

Following that line of thought and watching this Government’s predilection with trees I am now chasing carbon credits. Due to my tree density I qualify immediately and have made my first claim. More on that in a future blog.

One rule I applied early to my diversification was that whatever business I started it could not detract from the cows ability to produce, after all, without them I wouldn’t have the cash to diversify to start with.

Currently, the cows are producing 1.77 kg MS, averaged over 10 days on full time OAD. I’m up 9% for the month but down 4% for the season. This reflects calving 5 days later this season. I intend to rectify that by calving on 20th July again next season. Calving was quick, with all cows calved in 34 days and none needing assistance. I achieved the brief calving by only mating to AI for 6 weeks with the last two weeks being to short gestation semen.

The cows are at condition score 4.7 and are cycling well. I do enjoy not worrying about if the cows are going to cycle and the fact there are no skinny ones that need attention. I have been feeding PKE to fill a feed gap in the night paddocks which are split. The grass growth has caught up to cow demand and I will cease PK tonight (27th Sept.). The first cut of silage is in the pit ( 7 ha ). Due to the great fertility of the cows I had surplus heifer calves and found a buyer who had one of those years when they had a run of bull calves. It was good to be able to choose which calves to keep, although I need to make sure they are from cows adapting to OAD. Herd testing has helped show family lines responding to the new conditions.

So much for work! Selling Paulownia timber means you meet some interesting characters. One of those is Phil who is a plasterer from Auckland. Pre-covid he came down with friend, Alan, to get branches off me. I inquired what he would be using the branches for and he said gunpowder making! We got talking, naturally enough, and he asked if they could come to the farm and fire their cannon! I said “Hell, yes”, and after lockdown they came back with three more friends for the weekend. They brought two cannons, a mortar, and a collection of .57 calibre rifles dating back to the NZ wars. They also had a couple of home-built 308s, just to top off their arsenal.

We picked a sight with a clear line-of-fire into some large boulders. Not an easy thing on a farm filled with trees. All day Saturday there were monstrous bangs as they fired their weapons. Fortunately, my neighbour was most accommodating and even joined in the fun. Tess’ camera club were in attendance, along with various other neighbours that wanted to participate. Earmuffs or plugs were needed because they were a noisy bunch. They managed to make some rather large dents in the boulders, and we all got to participate. These guys were very talented, with two of them owning their own engineering workshops, so the cannon and mortar were made by them. Both workshop owners were retired and used their workshops mostly for making whatever they wanted. Although one of them did specialise in hydraulics and is working with Team NZ on their systems.

Tess fed them well, they had a lot of fun and they are coming back. Phil is also a leading rocket maker and fired the rocket that climbed highest at Taupiri in a gathering there pre-Christmas. They have plans to bring some different ordinance to the next gathering, can hardly wait!!!

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