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December 20, 2022

In the heavy hill country along the EastCoast of New Zealand’s North Island, the Turihaua Angus team are gearing up fora busy year – and one that they hope will allow them to get back out with clients and to industry events, after two years of covid restrictions.

With a history spanning more than a century, Turihaua Angus holds the notable achievement of being one of the oldest operating Angus stud in Australasia – founded in 1906.

Today, it’s the fourth generation at the helm of the stud; Paul and Sarah Williams.

The founding Williams family members came out from England as missionaries, and established large land holdings around Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.

Working with and employing local Māori, the Williams family broke in scrub and tough hill country, overcoming the challenges of isolation and access to services.

In the beginning, the Williams family ran a few different cattle breeds but settled on Angus early on.

“It came down to letting the environment test the genetics, and that’s still a key component of our business,” saysPaul.

But due to the shortage of Angus genetics in the early years, the family decided to breed enough cattle for its own farms and since then, the stud has evolved into a world renowned breeder with a reputation for efficient, adaptable bulls able to perform in some of the most in hospitable climates.

“For us there’s a legacy with that history going forward as well; Sarah and I are taking over and want to take things in to the future with utilising more technology, whilst still maintaining the integrity and trust of the brand,” he explains.

Genetic gain without falling for fads

Today, the Williams’ are located 15 minutes north of Gisborne, along the coast, on part of the original holding that was originally established as a holding farm for store stock that was running in to the big sale yards in Gisborne.

While more than 100 years have passed since the family first settled in the region, much of the landscape is unchanged –and throws just as many challenges.

Pastures are native and the winters are typically very wet.

Cattle are grass fed for 12 months of the year, with small supplementary feed at key times.

“A lot of our clients don’t supplementary feed due to the environmental challenges, so we wanted a more moderate animal with structural integrity that could handle and deliver high fertility in these conditions,” explains Paul.

“So that’s the basis of our herd; fertility and structural integrity.”

Reflecting on the history of Turihaua and through his research into the historical practices of the stud, Paul says productivity through growth without cost to efficiencies has been a long-term genetic achievement.

“Our cattle our bigger now but not huge; they’re stout and heavy, but fit for their environment. We’ve been heifer mating for 35 years and selecting replacements out of that program so our fertility has really become a leading feature of the stud.”

“We’ve also been looking at carcass traits like fat for winter cover, with a view to incremental gains as part of the overall picture.”

Going forward, Paul says working with neXtgen Agri and Mark Ferguson has helped shape a 10-20 year plan into the future.

“Benchmarking is really important for us, and it allows us to understand where we’re at, what the future may look like and how to formulate planning to reach our goals,” he notes.

Paul says working on the strategic aspect of the business, and setting up structures to measure progress is important;“otherwise you’re just farming day in day out, without really achieving what you set out to in terms of your goals.”

“It comes down to a bit of a continuum; on the breeding continuum you’ve got people right at the top end of genetic gain, pushing EBVs and maximising production and then at the other end you’ve got some really traditional breeders who are more focused on phenotype and structure and then you’ve got everybody in between….so I think it’s finding where you sit, and where the happy medium is for your business and finding the like minded clients, farmers and advisory services that are going to help you go down that path.”

“You’ve got to get out into the industry and talk to commercial operators to really understand where we can make improvements; that’s our plan for 2022 particularly,” he says, optimistically.

Keeping a finger on the pulse of his industry is important, but not getting too “caught up in trends” is also key.

“For us, it all comes back to functionality– you can have the best genetic package in the world, but if those bulls aren’t lasting and doing the job…then you’ve really got nothing.”

“It’s easy to get side-tracked and blinded by trends in this industry.”

“It takes a strong brand to stick with their fundamentals through all the ups, downs and new fads…and still achieve what they’ve set out to,” he says.

Top: Turihaua Angus on their native hill county. Bottom: Yard weaning for easy management

Recording to manage

Turihaua runs a two-cycle breeding program for mixed age cows, single sire mated.

Heifers are also two-cycles and run out fifteen days before the cows for ease of management during tagging and weighing– which is a busy time for the operation, which seeks to record data for every birth.

Yearling heifers are expected to record around 90% in calf and 90-95% for mixed age cows.

An extensive embryo transplant programme is also run in conjunction, established around 15 years ago and this year – with four cows flushed on-farm – achieved 73 embryos.

New genetics are also introduced through a small amount of AI each year.

After preg-testing and scanning, the Turihaua team swings into action preparing for their June Bull Sale which offers around 70-80 bulls annually.

Bulls are run in one mob for as long as possible – with some now around 18 months old, which Paul says puts “selection pressure” on the animals under commercial environments.

“The cream rises to the top, and this gives us our selection for the bull sale and we won’t put anything through the ring that doesn’t pass some fairly rigid testing for structural soundness, environmental fitness and all those fundamental traits that we focus on.”

All calves (around 400 annually) are DNA tested, weighed and tagged at birth – a challenging time for the team, particularly during the wet, cold season in heavy hill country.

In September, around 30 yearling bulls are sold in a special sale for the heifer mating market.

With a small but committed team, including a full-time shepherd and farm manager, as well as the help of Paul’s parents who are still active in the business, Paul and Sarah also invest in technology to facilitate the data collection and function of information gathering within the business.

A fully automatic drafting race has been a particularly useful investment, along with Gallagher and TruTest weighing and data technology, however Paul says he still reverts to “the old ways” and paper records everything:

“I have actually gone back to the books and record everything manually. It’s on my hip the whole time, and we use the HerdMaster system so I can come inside and input the data.”

Turihaua also performs genomic testing and sire/dam verifying.

“Probably the biggest technology gains for us is employing the right people to assist in various areas of the business –and using companies that offer good advice, service and support. You can’t do everything yourself – so I think investing in that kind of technological and business support can be invaluable.”

As January gives way to a busy year ahead, Paul and Sarah are optimistic about a more active year for the industry, and the chance to get back out with clients.

“We just love being challenged by our clients; they push us to keep looking for those small but incremental gains which is making our business strong and profitable even in the midst of trying times.”

Liz Rymill
Article by:
Liz Rymill

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