An insight into Gemma Wark's time working in New Zealand

When I was 3rd in Showmanship
15 May 2018

Gemma Wark is a name that many of you will be familiar with, as a young farmer who has been in and around the industry for a while now and recently made up part of the Great Britain and Ireland team during the youth competition at the 2017 World Angus Forum. Gemma recently had the opportunity to spend 7 months working in New Zealand, which is a great example of how our breed can take you all over the world due to its stature and presence on a worldwide scale. Gemma is also starting her own herd with calves hitting the ground soon so is a great ambassador for the young people who may take inspiration from her experiences. You can read all about her time in New Zealand via the account that Gemma has provided below. We must thank Gemma for providing us with such great insight into her time and congratulate her on all her work and achievements to date:

''I feel extremely fortunate to be able to say I spent seven months working in New Zealand. I worked in South Island for Kane Farms, starting in September. I arrived just after a bad start to spring, there had been a lot of rain and therefore I saw the tail end to some of the flooding they experienced.

The Kane’s farming operation incorporates 750 dairy cows, plus young stock, two cattle studs, about 1000 breeding ewes as well as growing their own winter feed and silage. When I arrived it was in the middle of calving and lambing time. My job was primarily independently raising 160 beef dairy cross calves, all sired by Kane’s own Angus and Hereford genetics. I received them at 4 days old and reared them indoors for a couple of weeks. They would then go outside and I would feed them from a quad and a 60 teat milk trailer. They got the hang of their portable feeder rather quick which made entering and exiting fields interesting!!

As spring continued I got more responsibilities such as tractor work and lambing the hoggets. Everything lambed outdoors and often interference could result in mis mothering, therefore lambing in New Zealand basically entailed driving around the field carefully for a look over things.

In November, one of the biggest cattle shows in the country takes place – Christchurch A&P show. I was lucky enough to take two of Kane Farm’s rising yearling bulls to the show. The Kane’s did very well, achieving Reserve Interbreed and All Breeds Champion with their Angus bull. I got a great insight of the stud beef industry in New Zealand and met breeders from across the country. This was also a great opportunity to meet up with contacts from the World Angus Forum as most of the New Zealand’s youth team members were there and keen to show me what they do.

As spring followed into summer, it started to heat up. The Southland area is known to have a similar climate to the UK and therefore known to be “summer-safe”. However, last summer was an exception - it was one of the worst droughts in the area seen for years. It was interesting to see how the Kiwi farmers handled this, I found that they were willing to be adaptable with their system. The Kane’s for instance sold the majority of their lambs as stores which they would have usually finish themselves. They also put cull cows and ewes away earlier than usual as there simply wasn’t enough grass to keep the usual number of stock for that time of year. A silver lining of the situation was the fact beef and lamb prices were good, therefore, killing stock earlier than normal wasn’t too much of a compromise to businesses.

My last month working for the Kane’s rain finally came. The grass rocketed after this which was an excellent opportunity for me to practice some grazing management with the calves I reared. Every two days I would spend an hour or so building and taking down temporary electric fences in order to set up new grass breaks. It was amazing how quickly the calves learned how to respect the fences and knew when they needed a new break.

Once this was done, I would continue working with a show team which I was preparing for Wanaka A&P show. At this point, I was familiar with many of the exhibitors so it was a brilliant event in order to say my farewells. We took a team of seven, six calves and the Angus bull we took to Christchurch. Wanaka was interesting as it was mainly a calf show and was certainly more chilled out than Christchurch, but great competition all the same. It was a good chance to take the calves to and introduce them to a show, hopefully some make Christchurch show this November.

Out with my job in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to travel around North Island and visit several Angus cattle studs. Although there were differences in some breeding objectives between herds, overall I found stud breeders in New Zealand were extremely commercially minded. I found it very interesting how they challenged their stud cattle in extreme conditions at times to prove they are fit for all commercial producers. Often breeders would boast that their Angus cattle are on steeper hills than the next breeder which I found amusing.

This experience I know I will cherish forever, I cannot thank the Kane’s enough for taking me in and giving me so many opportunities. With Brexit well in sight, I will certainly be referring to my time spent in New Zealand as I feel the low input systems and the adaptability of the Kiwi farmers is definitely food for thought in the future.''

A huge thank you to Gemma from all at the Society for sharing her great experiences and learnings with us through a very valuable and informative piece. Here are a selection of photographs from her time in New Zealand:

Where Angus cows are outwintered Whangara Farms

When Ryan the bull got Reserve All breed and Interbreed Champion

Wanaka Show

Touring North island

North Island Tour

N Island Tour

Mary Anne Kane and myself at Wanaka Show

Feeding Calves

Calves got good at following