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Mike Gee-Taylor: You Get Out What You Put In

Mike Gee-Taylor knows how important it is to have a good succession plan. Based in Rangiwahia, an hour’s drive from Palmerston North, Mike is the owner of three farms and is no stranger to hard work and determination. His latest farming venture is to restore Tawai Farm to how Mike remembered it as a young boy – a thriving sheep and beef property that he always dreamt of owning.

Mike never imagined that he would be the owner of three farms situated close to one another. His father originally purchased their home farm, Glencorran, in 1962, which consisted of six paddocks, one set of sheep yards and one set of cattle yards. Today, it’s grown to 72 paddocks, eight sheep yards and three cattle yards. He also installed a deer unit, and while they don’t currently run any deer, he is leaving it there for the next generation.

Four years ago, Mike got the opportunity to purchase another farm four kilometres up the road from Glencorran, featuring 107 hectares of bare land, which he named Pemberton. He had a three-year succession plan for Pemberton to re-grass, fence and fix up the place to use as a block to finish lambs, which was accomplished within the desired timeframe. This complements Glencorran, which is hill country breeding. The succession plans continued when Mike bought Tawai Farm across the road from Pemberton 20 months ago. The 300-hectare property was in dire need of attention, with the previous owners leaving it in a poor condition. The first step was to clean up all of the trash that was left on the farm. During this time, it was hard to see how this farm could transition from rags to riches, but Mike put a five-year plan in place to tidy up Tawai like he did with the last, including starting a fencing business to outsource fencing work to subsidise on-farm costs.

“Our plan for Tawai is to get the fencing up to speed; when we took over the property, it was one big paddock. We ended up selling over 100 acres to raise funds for developing the farm. You could put sheep in the front paddock, and two days later they would have been in the back paddock without opening and shutting a gate. Since then, we’ve been able to shut the block down into sections and then concentrate on fixing some of the fences that were there. We’ve done a lot of tracking and digging work, putting in drains, cleaning out dams and fixing yards. We also built a brand-new set of yards out the back and are in the process of doing more subdividing. It’s a huge, exciting project; some people would baulk at that opportunity, but I’ve sort of taken to it like a duck to water. I’m keen to get in and give it a good go,” Mike said.

“Some of the paddocks on the farm haven’t been stock-grazed for ten to 30 years, so we’ve had to get some of the pasture back up to speed, and in order to do that we’ve brought in a lot of cattle and mowed it down. It’s in a state of shock now, but it’ll recover. We’ve also done a bit of re-grassing already, with a view to getting fertiliser on the property as well, so now it’s just a time thing,” he added.

Mike’s daughter, Heather, is also a keen farmer, who leases 800 acres of the home farm, Glencorran, and is a third owner of Tawai Farm, alongside Mike and his wife, Kate.

Mike has the confidence to know that when he hangs up his boots, the three farms will be left in capable hands and will be part of the family succession that he implemented.

His other daughter is also heavily into farming and is part of a shearing gang in Alexandra. On the farm, he has Taylor, who runs the fencing side of the operation, a head shepherd, and a Growing Future Farmers cadet.

Across their three blocks they have 4,000 breeding ewes, 1,200 hoggets, 245 Angus breeding cows, 72 Angus yearling heifers, and 23 horses. They have planted a big area of Mānuka trees on their Tawai property, signing a contract with Comvita, which adds “another string to the bow”.

At Tawai, they farm commercial cattle – breeding cows and dairy grazing through the winter – and Romney sheep. They run a satellite herd for Merchiston Angus, a property based in Hunterville. “I had an opportunity 13 years ago to purchase stud cows, with the view to expand into a hill country area. I own the cows, and the bulls at weaning are then sold back to the stud for them to grow out and take on as yearlings or two-year-olds. I retain all female stock and decide, in conjunction with the stud master Richard Rowe, what we use for mating and what we don’t use. We run an AI programme with the stud cows, and there are approximately 115 here now, along with between 25 and 35 yearling heifers. The AI is used on 50 cows, and the rest are used for natural mating, but we use backup bulls after the AI programme.”

Tawai will remain a commercial operation, currently running 900 ewes and 40 Angus cattle, with the goal of increasing stock numbers alongside the re-fencing projects to manage stock control. The farmhouse also needs a lot of attention, so they are in the process of getting it rewired, recarpeted, and adding a new kitchen and shower. Once it’s finished, they will house staff in there, with the aim of placing their Growing Future Farmers cadet in the newly refurbished cottage. There’s still a lot of work to do, with Mike mentioning that while he’s still reasonably fi t, he will continue to develop Tawai farm. He is big on advice and getting a second opinion to ensure that he’s heading on the right track.

“The hope I’ve got is that we can develop this farm, so it is basically a turnkey. It was a good farm in its day, and it needs a bit of care, which we can put that back into this farm. I want to be able to put stock in a paddock, and they’ll stay there and eat better grass than what’s here now. We’ve planted a few poplar poles in strategic places to hold the land and cleaned out the drains to avoid having stock stuck in them. It’s a busy time, but you only get out what you put in, so you’ve got to work hard and love what you do.”