The Hildreth Romneys team: David and Vanessa Hildreth, far right, with, from far left shepherd Kate MacFarlane, operations manager Mike Thomas and sons Angus and Marcus.
When, 10 years ago, David and Vanessa Hildreth drew themselves a plan for the future of their sheep-breeding business, they couldn’t have foreseen they would get it pretty much bang on.
Their two boys Angus and Marcus, now 25 and 24, finished university and went travelling before returning to the farm this year to work together.
The sheep programme has remained the backbone of the Hildreths’ business since the couple moved from David’s family farm at Sherenden, where his parents started their romney stud in 1966, to Glenross Station, further up the Napier-Taihape road, in 2005.
“The ram business has quadrupled in that time,” David says. “The move has increased our scale and this is a great property.”
The future continues to look positive, adds Vanessa. “It will be more of the same for us as the genetics compound but adding in the influence of the next generation.
“We are right where we want to be. The boys come into the business with their own flavour and ways bringing new skills and passion.
“We’re very excited for the boys to be involved in whatever capacity they decide. It’s a successful family business. It’s big enough for the four of us and any new family members to enjoy and contribute to. This is exactly how we thought it would happen.”
“It is satisfying to get to where we have,” says David.
Hildreth Romneys sells more than 1100 rams each year from 2800 stud ewes and 1250 ewe hoggets.
Overall, the business covers 780 hectares, including a 312ha block on nearby Corbin Rd.
The stud is focusing on improving fertility in the ewe hogget, which this year recorded a scanning result of 125 per cent in-lamb and 100 per cent docking.
“We single-sire mate the hoggets using our best two-tooth rams so we’re speeding up the genetic gain,” he says.
“We’re pleased with the intergenerational turnover,” adds Vanessa.
“Over half the rams we use every year in the main flock are two-tooth rams so we’re really bringing in new blood all the time.”
Weaning weight has increased 4.5 kilograms since 1990 for the same level of feeding with the overall production up $11 an animal.
David says the stud is “ticking all the boxes” for its clients in terms of performance, genetics and having the type of sheep they’re looking for.
There is focused selection for fertility, growth rate, constitution and structural soundness.
“They must have sound black feet and good black noses too,” he says.
They’ve also never lost enthusiasm for wool.
“We like a good, even fleece over the whole animal with no variation. We’ve always selected for a good fleece. Why not maximise profit for every trait? If you’re going to grow wool you may as well grow the best wool you can.”
Sires with facial eczema tolerance were bought and used in 2007. A sub flock is being developed that will be focused on breeding for FE tolerance.
Survival to weaning is another area David is improving.
“Using actual data along with SIL evaluations we can accurately assess the survival values of individual animals. There needs to be at least five years of data and a reasonable-sized flock for this data to be meaningful.
“Many things can affect survival including environment, weather at lambing, contour, ewe condition, feed covers and ewe stocking, but certain lambs survive where others perish.
“It is these ewes producing the consistent survivors we want to identify.”
All ewes have electronic identification for greater accuracy in data collection.
“One of our points of difference is our hands-on monitoring to give the most accurate information to our clients.”
While also working on the farm, their eldest son Angus is looking at the stud’s stock selection strategies using the SIL performance recording to see how much money clients could make by using rams in a higher index.
Angus recently left Fonterra’s graduate programme to come back to the farm and work part-time for himself on a couple of projects, including developing software for the freight industry and creating a dairy-based meal replacement drink.
“It’s a million times better being out here than sitting in an office,” says Angus, who has an engineering degree from Canterbury University.
He also completed his masters at the prestigious London Business School, where he amazed other students, many from wealthy backgrounds, with tales of how many lambs had to be sold on his New Zealand farm to pay for the school’s tuition.
Marcus, 24, has diplomas in agriculture and farm management from Lincoln University. He has been in Canada “on and off” for the past three years working as a hunting guide in British Columbia with an eye on animals such as stone sheep, elk and moose and also did a season as a snowmaker on a ski field. He is now home for a year or so to “see how it goes”, he says.
Operations manager Mike Thomas has been working for the Hildreths for seven years and is in charge of the day-to-day activities using Farmax in conjunction with John Cannon from Challenge Consultants.
New to the Hildreth Romneys team this year is shepherd Kate MacFarlane, who is no stranger to the stud business having grown up at her parents’ Waiterenui Angus cattle stud at Raukawa near Hastings.
Glenross Station sits at an altitude of 400-600 metres above sea level. Winter cropping is now a stable part of the winter feed regime (15 per cent) with swedes and kale planted for the past five years.
“That has increased our carrying capacity because the lack of winter grass growth was our biggest constraint,” David says.
“Otherwise it’s hard to carry cattle through those winter months when their main reason for being here is pasture control.”
The farm has about 130 mixed-age cows plus 35-45 heifer replacements, which are also calved.
Bulls are bought from Waiterenui and Gisborne’s Turihaua Angus. The Hildreths are flexible with what happens to the progeny.
“Steers are usually sold on the spring market with heifers retained and the surplus sold in spring as well. The cattle policy is flexible because they have to fit in with the sheep programme, not the other way around.”