Business Rural Summer 2021

14 | Pioneering breed takes pride of place Sue Russell B reeder of the not so common English Leices- ter Sheep, David Bennett, is a quietly spoken, thoughtful person, who is proud to have been working on the land all his life. He and wife Mavis, along with son Andrew run a 360 ha property, 13km east of Ashburton and just 2km off the coast. The farm carries a mix of cropping, sheep and beef grazing and the fourth generation farmer has been on this particular plot of land 40 plus years. Their home is on a rise of the farm and their vista extends out to sea. “We were lucky enough to buy into the farm from my grandfather and my mother and, like so many rural people who have stayed in the one district most of their working lives, we have a strong con- nection to this district,” David says. English Leicester was a pioneering breed in New Zealand, found to be well suited to wetter Merino regions and rough grazing in the North Island hill country, areas that Merino’s were proven to be unsuitable in. In the early days it was extensively used to cross with other sheep breed in order to re- fine breeds best suited to New Zealand conditions. Driving much of David’s thinking these days is to make the farm business as sustainable as possible for Andrew to take over in time. The area their farm is settled in is mainly a mix of stock and crop grow- ing, though just over the road a dairy unit operates. About half the farm is dedicated to cropping each year for grass seeds and cereals while on the balance the ewes, lambs, trading lambs and cattle move about, growing to a size and weight ready for sale, or retained as replacement stock. “About 40% of our stock numbers are capital stock with the balance traded. This works well if we get into feed shortages it gives us some flex- ibility to move more stock off the farm quickly.” The past two autumns, David says, have been very dry, adding a nervous edge to planning, how- ever he’s been in the farming game long enough to know it’s best to concentrate on what you have some control over and let the rest take care of itself. The farm carries a mix of Wakanui silt loam, on a clay base and lighter soils on the areas which were once river-beds. MEAT & WOOL » David Bennett “The old river-beds are very good for growing feed but difficult to manage as they don’t retain water for long.” On the stock side, the farm currently carries 550 breeding ewes mostly, by early September, with lambs afoot, 900 or so hoggets for sale over the next month to six weeks and about 80 yearling cattle. Those numbers have been the norm now for some time. David’s association with English Leicester can be traced back to his father’s passion for the breed. He had a substantial English Leicester stud in the day. “As a youngster I remember taking them to A & P shows.” These days, David only carries a small number as the market for rams has reduced substantially. “We have about 70 stud ewes and we have been using three rams per season for mating just to spread the genetics wider. We try to buy a new ram every couple of years.” A stringent culling process once lambs are weaned ensures that the best English Leicester characteristics are retained in the stud. For David it’s second nature to assess the stud sheep. He looks at physical soundness first, the quality of the feet and legs, mouth, with a sound jaw and finally the quality of the wool. “The English Leicester wool is beautiful. It is stylish and I look to see if it is crimped right to the tip and with the fleece not too open. All these factors contribute to decisions as to which sheep I will retain.” Down the sheep’s back David says he looks for uniformity of fleece and good overall cover. “They are an exceptionally strong maternal mother who are intensely proud of their lambs and they look after them very well. If they are fed well they can produce a lot of multiples.” With all these appealing attributes its easy to understand why this old breed, which has played a pivotal role in establishing the national flock, still takes pride of place for David. He has a passion for working on the land which has seen him through all his working life, under- pinned by a healthy philosophy. “I feel privileged to work on the land but you have to make it work. There aren’t problems, just solutions to be found.”. “The English Leicester wool is beautiful. It is stylish and I look to see if it is crimped right to the tip and with the fleece not too open.” LAWN SHEARING - QUALITY SHEARING - • All Shearing requirements • Lifestyle blocks & Farms Phone John 027 321 0984 03 307 0383 | Proud to support David Bennett David Bennett’s association with English Leicester sheep can be traced back to his father’s passion for the breed. Sewage and wastewater treatment systems specifically designed for New Zealand conditions. NaturalFlow • BioRock • Graf • Rainwater Harvesting fl 03 323 8541 CAIRNS GROUNDSPREADING FOR ALL YOUR CROPPING AND PASTORAL REQUIREMENTS P Mike 027 436 4461 E Latest Technology | Topcon Computers Variable Rate Spreading | Expertise cropping Proof-of-placement through Tracmap PROUD TO SUPPORT DAVID BENNETT SHEEP BREEDER