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Kaipikari Farm: Managing new pastures

Taranaki is known for its thriving agricultural industry, steep hill country and picturesque views. Around 60% of the region is used for farming, dairying being the most popular sector followed closely by sheep and beef farming. Gene Thomson is the farm manager of Kaipikari Farm in Urenui, North Taranaki. He lives there with his partner Danielle.

Kaipikari Farm is a 540-hectare (effective) sheep and beef property, with 150 hectares dedicated to native bush through the QEII covenant. The farm is roughly one-third cultivatable, one-third medium hill and one-third steep hill country. Gene is the main worker on the farm where they run 5,400 stock units comprising of 1,900 ewes, 700 ewe hoggets and 210 beef cows, with all progeny fattened. The third-generation farm is owned by Ed Newton, who is permanently based in Canada and returns home to New Zealand around three times a year.

Ed’s brother, Stephen Newton, has a property nearby and helps Gene out with the development, earthworks and weed control. He is a machine enthusiast and primarily operates the bulldozer and excavator.

“Having Stephen on board is an enormous asset to the business, he has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to farming, earthmoving and anything mechanical”. Gene also employs casual labour that helps during the busy periods including docking, weaning and shearing.

With ten years of experience in the rural industry, Gene started as a junior shepherd, working his way up to head shepherd then stock manager on Te Tumu Station (1,400ha Akitio), then employed as farm manager of Kaipikari Farm in 2018. Gene and Danielle met in Masterton after both attending a Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre course in 2012, both working on various farms during that time, before moving to Kaipikari Farm where they’ve been stationed for the last five years.

The genuine passion behind making sure that animals are properly cared for is a consistent pattern across the majority of New Zealand farms, and Kaipikari Farm is no different. When visiting the pair, they discussed the welfare of their stock and how it’s such an important element of their operation. Their Angus beef cattle on the farm are bred for their durability and suit the Taranaki hill country well.

“They’re good, hearty cattle with an excellent temperament; we enjoy fattening all the progeny through to heavy weights, and believe their temperament is a key factor to their growth rates. We believe we have the right ratio of breeding stock versus fattening stock to maintain pasture quality and operate an efficient system," Gene said.

Gene rates their bushland as being one of the unique elements of Kaipikari Farm, which has been regenerating on the land for the past 20 years. The steep, terrace country with stunning views also has a lot to offer. “A lot of flats are on top of hills instead of valley floors, with free-draining soil and a lot of native bush that has been fenced off over the years.”

Apart from catching up with mates, Gene centres himself around farming."It's a bit of an addiction really – farming doesn't stop, it just keeps going. There are always challenges going forward, you can always do little things to make it better. Just keep tweaking things along the way.”

Ed Newton has just recently purchased a new block of 90 hectares across the road, which they are in the process of developing. This will include boundary and internal fencing, water, gorse control and pasture renewal. Gene had some cows in the new block to start cleaning up roughage, but he said that this project will keep himself and Stephen busy over the next three years. Growing up on a beef farm in Dargaville, Northland, Danielle has always been passionate about farming. After leaving school, she began shepherding in the Wairarapa region before going to university to study agriculture being awarded Top Ag student for her Agri-Science degree. Danielle now works as a rural bank manager, travelling around to different farms across the region.

“I enjoy working with farmers to grow their business as well as working within great communities. The lessons I have learnt within my farming career, and working alongside farmers in rural banking, are the importance of continuously building relationships with people and professionals; your team surrounding you is key. Seek growth, it never stops. For young people wanting to get into the industry, ask questions. The only silly question is the one that wasn't asked,” Danielle said.

In March 2021, Mark tragically passed away of a heart attack. Like Kevin and Kristin, Mark was very committed to the family orchards and his loss continues to be very keenly felt. "Although Mark is no longer here, it is important to me that he continues to be acknowledged as part of our family, as he always will be," Kristin said.

With an attentive job and constantly dealing with customers, Danielle likes to unwind on the farm; it’s her little slice of paradise. If she’s not working in rural banking, Danielle helps Kaipikari Farm with budgets and reporting, including hands-on work during busier periods. “I would say my favourite thing on the farm would be doing cattle work. Since we've got well-bred Angus cows and their calves, they're just a pleasure to work with,” she said.

“In terms of well-being, the farm naturally contributes towards this. It's my thing for the weekends and even just going for a walk or a run, I'll just run across the farm and explore some new areas.”

Gene and Danielle hope to continue to develop and improve livestock performance and efficiency at Kaipikari Farm. They are excited to enhance the neighbouring block and move forward with fresh ideas and ways to enhance production. “New Zealand has a key role in providing the world with quality products that are sustainably produced. For this reason, we believe future demand will be high on the back of our pasture-fed proteins with a low-environmental footprint,” Gene said.

“Farming is the backbone of New Zealand, everything is connected to it in one way or another. It provides a large percentage of New Zealand's gross domestic product (GDP) and helps communities thrive,” Danielle added.