Business Rural Winter 2022

38 | MEAT & WOOL » Coleridge Downs Ltd One of Coleridge Downs’ properties, Big Ben, calves down the majority of the operation’s breeding Angus cows. Di Malcolm Coleridge Downs is putting as much effort into raising the next generation of farmers as it is into driving home its point of difference. This is a tale which – after much effort and collaboration – is delivering the happy ending which inspired its founding members. But rst, the overview. Coleridge Downs includes four properties [Big Ben, Dry Acheron and Annavale] carrying 42,000 stock units on 9000 hectares on the north side of the Rakaia Gorge (with Annavale near Spring eld). The entire operation carries an Angus beef breeding herd (including heifer calves, steers, and rising yearling steer calves), deer (Red x a B11 terminal stag from Mt Peel Estate – which includes hinds, and weaner deer), and its increasingly famous Headwaters crossbred ewes. Coleridge Downs is one of the founding shareholders in the Headwaters Group – a group of 50 farmers – breaking new ground for its customers who revel in taste and quality. It’s branded “Lumina lamb” has been designed – through genetics and management – to outstrip all competition for taste. It features ne intramuscular micro-marbling (much like Wagyu). It carries a signature milder taste, exceptional texture, and tenderness. The Headwaters group has involved a myriad of industry talent at different layers of the industry throughout its quest – including chefs and its collaboration with the Alliance Group – to help achieve what they described early on as their “wildly ambitious goal”, to capture consistent gastronomical greatness. An integral part of the management for Lumina lambs [from when they weigh 32-33kg] includes them spending a minimum of 35 days grazing speci cally cultivated chicory herb pastures. Coleridge Downs’ General Manager Tony Plunkett has been with the operation for 15 years, and he is familiar with every part of this march towards perfection – including the hiccups. “Initially we started to realise we were getting pushed out of the good, irrigated country by the dairy boys and diversi cation,” Tony said. “We were getting further and further into the hills. You can’t keep doing the same old, same old and expect a different result. We realised that we needed to get out of the commodity market. “Look at what we’ve got in New Zealand? The only way we can extract more value is to tell our story, to do things really well, and to market to those that can afford it. We are talking about the 10% of the people that never ask the price, rather they ask, ‘Does it taste good?’ ‘Is it good for me?’ ‘Have you treated the animal well?’.” He says they now have the momentum they dreamed of. “We have a good base, we understand what we’ve got, we’ve sorted out the farm management so we can achieve what we need to, and the marketing is going really well. “We are now starting to grow, but being part of this group not going to suit everyone and we don’t want everyone. The integrity of what we do is really important to us.” To achieve it all, takes a passionate team onfarm. There are 18 staff at Coleridge Downs, and this is far from a secret squirrel’s club. Tony and his wife, Pam, have four sons, and Tony saw a gap when it came to nurturing the next generation of “hands on” farmers. To that end, each year, Coleridge Downs takes in four high school graduates (for two years) and its team teaches them everything they know. It means they have eight young people on-farm at any one time through the revolving training doors. The teenagers arrive in January with $500, which buys them a heading dog. “I came from Northland to the South Island when I was 18,” Tony said. “I wasn’t off a farm. I worked on the big sheep stations for about six years, and I got well looked after.There was a cook at every place, and things were a bit slower in those days so the older guys would help you out a lot. “The industry has now gone the other way. Things have sped up, and at a lot of these places the young people have to cook for themselves and there is no time to teach. For 18-year-olds boys, it just doesn’t work.” Leading the way, sharing the journey