Professional gamekeeper turned Waikato dairy farmer Ben Moore and his wife Lizzy.
Poacher turned gamekeeper is an idiom as old as the hills, but gamekeeper turned Waikato dairy farmer? Now that’s new. The dairyman and former gamekeeper is Ben Moore, who with wife Lizzy farms 450 cows at Okororie, near Tirau in Waikato.
Ben, from Hampshire, in the south of England, was a professional gamekeeper of pheasants in Rotorua when he met Lizzy, daughter of Federated Farmers leader and former dairy industry director Tony Wilding, nine years ago.
New Zealanders would be rightly surprised to discover that right here at home exists a world straight out of Downton Abbey including plus-fours, gun loaders, ground beaters and all.
Ben’s job was to rear and release thousands of pheasants a year on the owner’s property for the winter bird shooting season, when the well-heeled and their wallets arrived to buy a day’s shooting.
In keeping with tradition, their guns were loaded for them, and birds harried ahead. Ben’s formal brown plus-fours gamekeeper suit and hat are the real McCoy.
He was also a gamekeeper in England, as well as managing an agricultural contracting company overseeing 12 staff, but says he enjoyed the Kiwi version because at refreshment time, the paying and the paid mixed socially. In the UK the classes separated smartly at tea time.
Though not directly off a farm – his father owned a chocolate factory but his grandparents farmed 60 jersey cows – Ben has always worked on the land.
His romance with New Zealand – and later Lizzy – started when he was 18, milking cows at Makatu. He worked back and forth between countries for a while until he meet Lizzy, an experienced equestrian, at a hunt ball.
They were soon engaged and she joined him later in England. They returned in 2011 when New Zealand hosted, and won, the Rugby World Cup, in a national frenzy that bewildered the Englishman.
Today the Moores have two young children and Ben, now a permanent resident, has been chairman of Matamata Federated Farmers for a year and in May was elected vice-chairman of Waikato Federated Farmers’ dairy section. Until recently Okororie-born and bred Lizzy worked fulltime for the Primary ITO and is now a contractor to Quality Consultants New Zealand, which delivers auditing and advisory services and training to primary industry. She will complete a diploma of agribusiness management in October.
The couple are System 3 farming their own crossbred herd over two properties run as one farm totalling 145 hectares (141ha effective). They own 45ha of this and lease 100ha from Lizzy’s parents Tony and Sally Wilding under a formal arrangement which has them receiving the entire milk cheque, meeting 100 per cent of the costs including rates, and paying an annual lease fee adjusted to the milk price of the season. The Wildings own all the Fonterra shares and receive the dividends.
This is the Moores’ second season operating the two flat-torolling contour properties, but their fourth season farming the 100ha owned by the Wildings. They first worked this block in 2013 as herd-owning sharemilkers with 300 cows, and bought a neighbouring 52ha property two years ago. A neighbour bought 7ha of it which helped finance the deal, leaving the Moores with 45ha more land and enabling them to increase to 450 cows. The couple, who until 2012 were second-in-charge on a 1600-cow operation at Tokoroa for sharemilkers Andrew and Nicola Seath, also lease a 10ha run-off block.
This is the third season the lease agreement has been in force. It gives the Moores the right to purchase the 100ha after seven years, and the right to renew the lease then for another seven years, also with right of purchase.
The provision for milk priceadjusted lease payments takes some of the risk out of the balance sheet and helped the couple survive the milk price dive, says Lizzy, who did the research for lease structures when the family arrived at the idea. But it can sting when the milk price muscles up.
‘‘It’s set up so that we are 100 per cent sharemilkers. It’s not a free pass, it’s given us an opportunity. We get 100 per cent of the milk price but also 100 per cent of the costs. It means we can be completely in control, whatever we do it’s our decision.’’ The cost of a new underpass between the two blocks was shared.
This type of lease agreement also benefits baby boomer-age farmers, she says.
‘‘We look after everything. Dad’s still interested in the farm but doesn’t have to worry about anything. It’s a way for older farmers to still live on their farm and have a shed for the boat. If we give the lease back, the farm has to be in the same condition we found it.’’
The Wildings’ land is on two titles and the Moores hope that the leasing opportunity could be the pathway to buying one, and then both titles. They don’t intend to expand beyond 450 cows.
‘‘It could just be a pipe dream. It’s been agreed that if we can’t afford it because we don’t want to get into big debt the whole lot (145ha) will be sold as one farm,’’ says Lizzy.
Her brother Tom is wellestablished in an equity partnership farming 1700 cows in the South Island.
Tom farmed the Wilding property for four seasons before heading for a Tokoroa forestry conversion and then to the South Island. He bought the Wildings’ herd.
The Moores put their young herd together from several sources, buying the best quality cows they could afford.
They’re well on track to achieve target production this season of 190,000 kilograms of milksolids. Last season’s yield was 186,000kg – 1300kg/ha.
Calving started on July 10 and will wind up mid-September with 84 per cent of cows calved six weeks in. The empty rate was 10 per cent. The run-off carries 55 year-old heifers with 65 replacements to be kept this year.
Palm kernel extract is fed in the 28-place herringbone dairy shed, and a mix of PKE and dried distillers grain at this time of the year until four weeks of artificial breeding using Ambreed sires starts on October 1.
With payout tight in the past two seasons the Moores AB’d their top 300 breeding-worth cows and the rest went straight to friesian bulls lent by a Hawke’s Bay friend.
This meant fewer replacements, says Lizzy, but lower costs because they could keep their young stock on the run-off.
‘‘To get a calf to herd costs a lot and if it’s not grazed properly it’s a big risk. So with the run-off we eliminated some of the risk. But we haven’t got enough land (to carry more replacements) so this season 150 of the bottom BW cows will go to either an angus or hereford bull. We’ll sell the beef bulls and heifer calves at four days old.’’
Ben says 15.3 tonne/ha of pasture was harvested last season. Twelve hectares of fodder beet will be grown this season and 7ha of turnips. The first crop of fodder beet last season was a success with a yield of 35 tonne/ha. The average turnips yield is 17t/ha and the highest 21t/ha. Maize growing was abandoned because of wastage.
Ben says he’s ‘‘very passionate’’ about his crops after his contracting experience in England. ’’It’s also nice looking after young stock. We’re 35 to 40kg ahead of target liveweight.’’
Running the farm is a threeperson job but Ben’s making do with himself and herd manager Shaun Spillsbury, who lives onfarm with partner Aimee Dean and their four children.
The Moores say their ambition is to ensure they have a farming future.
‘‘We monitor everything monthly so we know exactly where we are. We don’t want to be the biggest but we want to be able to farm so we have a future in farming and leave something for our kids,’’ says Lizzy.
Source: The Southland Times