FMG Young Farmer of the Year grand finalist - Alex Field

Posted by on 22 May 2019 | Comments


Turakina stock manager Alex Field is preparing to represent the Taranaki/Manawatū region at this year’s FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final in Hawke’s Bay.

Managing one of the country’s earliest-lambing sheep farms is a challenge Alex Field thrives on.

The 25-year-old is a stock manager at Tunnel Hill, a 1000 hectare coastal sheep and beef farm at Turakina, south of Whanganui.

The farm is owned by Richard and Suze Redmayne, who founded Coastal Spring Lamb in 2010. 

The property’s warm, sandy soils, which dry out in the summer heat, provide the ideal environment for winter lambing. 

“We start lambing in June, that’s more than three months earlier than farms in cooler parts of the South Island,” said Alex.

Every lamb born at Tunnel Hill is important, and Alex’s main focus is on getting as many through to weaning as he can. 

“We shepherd intensively during lambing and foster lambs to any ewes that lose their offspring,” he said.

“Cast ewes are another challenge on the flat, warm sand. Our daily rounds help to minimise any losses.”

“Young ewes are currently worth $300 each, without factoring in the value of their lambs. Each one we can save makes a difference to the bottom line,” he said.

The coastal property is exposed to prevailing westerly winds, which naturally season the farm’s pastures with sea salt. 

Tunnel Hill has a sustainable forestry operation, with roughly 10 hectares of pines planted annually for the last 28 years.

The pine trees are planted on the sand dunes, providing shelter and shade for livestock.

“We now have a lot of shelter and it’s good because a pine grows quite well on a sand dune, but grass doesn’t,” said Alex. 

Alex is the sole-charge stock manager and is responsible for 3200 Romney ewes and 310 Angus breeding cows. 

“I look after all the livestock by myself, but I use casual labour when a job requires a second person, such as drafting ewes,” he said. 

“It’s rare to get a quiet week here. I write a weekly plan. I find it’s a helpful way to ensure I get everything done.” 

It’s a big change from Alex’s previous job at Piquet Hill in the Waikato, where he worked with large teams of people.

“Going from chasing staff to having to do it yourself has been a refreshing change” he said.

Being a member of Marton Young Farmers has been an important way for Alex to stay connected, make new friends and get off farm. 

He was elected vice-chair soon after joining the club. 

Tunnel Hill lambs early to take advantage of premiums for getting fresh lamb onto supermarket shelves in October.

Lambs are fattened on lush ryegrass and clover, and beef cows are used to ensure pasture quality is kept at a premium. 

The cows are sourced from the Te Mania Angus Stud and are known for pulling their weight. 

“This year’s steers weighed an average of 300 kg at weaning, which broke the farm record,” he said.

“The same family has been buying the farm’s steers for almost 30 years and we have a regular buyer for the heifers as well.” 

For the sheep, tupping - or mating - starts in January, and Alex has to get creative to get ewes to cycle out of season.

“We’re working against their natural body clocks. Ewes don’t usually start cycling until we get less daylight hours in the autumn,” he said. 

To help solve the problem, Poll Dorset ewes are mixed with the Romney flock. Poll Dorset’s can cycle at any time and help bring the Romney’s on.

“Male teasers are introduced just after Christmas, which helps to get the ewes cycling by mid-January when the rams are introduced.” he said.

The farm also grows about 150 hectares of maize, which is harvested for grain.

Despite this year’s challenging weather conditions, the crop produced well.

“The paddocks we have harvested so far are yielding around 17 t/ha of maize grain, which is at the top end of commercial maize yields in New Zealand,” he said in late April.

Alex took out the Taranaki/Manawatū FMG Young Farmer of the Year regional final in Whanganui in April. 

He’ll get to realise a childhood dream of competing in the grand final in Hawke’s Bay in July. 

“It’s a surreal experience. I’m excited, nervous and humbled all at the same time,” he said. 

“It’ll be a long time before I get a feeling like I got when I spoke to mum and dad for the first time after winning the regional final.” 

“Making it to grand final is in itself a massive achievement,” he said. 

The FMG Young Farmer of the Year Grand Final runs from 4th-6th July in Hawke’s Bay.