James and Kate McKay

The opportunity to make production and profit gains was what spurned Alfredton farmers, James and Kate McKay, to become involved in the Red Meat Profit Partnership (RMPP). RMPP is a seven year Primary Growth Partnership programme aimed at driving sustainable productivity improvements in the sheep and beef sector to deliver higher on-farm profitability.

Encouraged by their ANZCO livestock rep, Ed Wallace, James and Kate joined the programme in 2015 and have had the opportunity to look at some key aspects of their farming system. This has included sitting down with local BakerAg consultant, Richmond Beetham, who has helped the McKays look at their ultimate goal of mating a 50kg hogget. Increasing weaning weights and looking to diversify their forages has also been a goal for the McKays.

Te Keo is a 400 ha farm located 18 kilometres east of Eketahuna and is a summer safe, breeding and finishing property which was purchased by the McKay family in 1970. James' parents, Murray and Mandy McKay, bought the farm off the family in 1983 and James and Kate took over the property in 2015 after a number of years of careful and thorough succession planning made possible with the foresight and hard work of Murray and Mandy.

One year in to the pilot farm programme, James and Kate McKay have seen the benefit in being involved in the RMPP.

"We enjoy being innovative famers and we saw this programme as a great vehicle to continue to be progressive in our methods. The programme will allow us to have access to some expert knowledge we may not have had otherwise.

The access to expert assistance and opportunities to share knowledge and practice with a range of sheep and beef farmers has been a real benefit. We have always valued and benefited from quality discussion with other farmers as well."

At a recent pilot farm day at Te Keo, the McKays were able to share information and experiences with other local and pilot farmers from three companies with specific expertise – StockCare, BakerAg and AgriCom. Alan McDermot, Agricultural Manager from ANZCO, also gave a big picture message about what our markets are now expecting from us.

One of the main changes the McKays are making is putting their hands on all of their sheep.

"We are not relying on our eye at the drafting gate. We have a better understanding of our machine (sheep) and when and how much it needs to be fed."

James and Kate have been working with StockCare for the past four years to help accurately predict how their sheep will perform a long way out from lambing which has been great for budgeting. The

inclusion of forage crops (Rape) to get lambs off the hills, to give the ewes more space in the summer and look after the tail end better, has been key.

"Break feeding of light ewes this year in August for a month has made a big difference enabling us to set stock multiple ewes at 74 kgs and condition score 3.3. Feed budgeting has helped us ensure we don't keep hold of trade lambs too far into the autumn/ winter. We feel there is still a lot more room for improvement in terms of weaning weight and lambing percentage and, with the use of our four years of stock monitoring, we can hone in on specific details such as lamb growth rate on mum or our trade lamb seasonal growth rate and sale pattern with real data and make changes.

"We feel most of the low hanging fruit has now been picked so we are turning to mating of our hoggets and the diversification of forages."

Feedback from the farmers who attended the pilot farm day at Te Keo was overwhelmingly positive.

Bryce and Julie Stephenson, from Bideford in Wairarapa, thought that there were quite a few ideas that they will take back and look to implement in their own farming system.

"There was lots of useful information and the speakers were really good. We are in a discussion group and a lot of that is focussed on-farm which is good, but it was great to have the experts in the room who gave us a lot of extra information."

The RMPP has recently completed an evaluation of all 75 pilot farmers around New Zealand and will be looking to publish the results of these within the next three months. Over the next two years RMPP will continue to work closely with the pilot farmers and look to apply the findings of the research at a national level.