In the hilly country around Tararua, drystock farmers have long been in the majority. But where many are doing things the way they always have, there are some whose smiles are broader these days, and Bruce and Chrissina Donald are among these cheerful souls.
Bruce had considered himself an ‘ordinary’ farmer, but felt that he had potential which wasn’t being utilised, and his farming systems weren’t delivering what he wanted. Chrissina had long been a secondary school teacher, and their three daughters were rapidly growing up (now 8, 12 and 14).
Two years ago a local friend suggested ringing Brendon Walsh of Growfarm to see whether that system could offer ideas to improve things. From the moment of this phone call life for the Donalds took on a whole new way of thinking and running their farming business.
Today their 567ha of mainly medium hill country, with 110ha steep and only 20ha flat is running 100 stud Hereford cows, 35 two year old heifers, plus calves, 20 R2 bulls, 1300 Romney ewes, 350 two tooths and trade stock when required. Bruce has significantly reduced the classes of stock previously run on their farm due to the change in philosophy.
Bruce said he hadn’t fully realised that full feeding is profitable, and that he had been unknowingly punishing his stock for years in favour of grass control, therefore keeping them too long and not calculating the true cost of what was being eaten. Using Growfarm systems and thinking, Bruce now regards his skill set as endless. With the right profit steps in place, Chrissina has stepped out of the classroom, and is bringing her governance, marketing and sales skills to the family business which they believe will improve and extend their business even more.
This is a real family business, including their daughters. Business meetings also involve them: they bring their own agenda items on what they think should be done. The family has been strengthened through this joint sense of ownership, all of the girls plan to be involved in the many aspects that agriculture has to offer. They are gradually being introduced to the idea of financial literacy as they ‘do the numbers’ on raising and grazing their own calves and SiL ewes. They are learning that some scenarios stack up and others don’t.
Growfarm clients are provided cloud software which make it clear when moves will be profitable plus they also calculate the allocation of ALL farm working expenses. Brendon’s availability for phone consultation at all times particularly in the early stages of change has been a huge comfort. The knowledge that they have never been left on their own is reassuring and critical in the success of transitioning away from prior thinking and old habits.
Bruce and Chrissina stress that Brendon is not handing out answers, but rather making clients think, analyse, and work out what should be done themselves. His favourite word is ‘why’.
Like other clients interviewed, the Donalds stressed that they had to be ready to do what was required under the Growfarm system. One of the main effects of this change had been a significant increase in personal belief in themselves. It is not a one size fits all system, but one which is individually tailored for each farming business, so looking over the fence at the neighbour or comparing yourself to ‘the farmer of the year’ is futile.”Your own business is your own business,” they say.
They have enjoyed the regional and national mastermind meetings which allow them to spend time with other Growfarm clients and swap good news stories and ideas. Key improvements have been destocking which has resulted in better stock health, better scanning and docking percentages, increased cattle weights, better engagement of the whole family and of course cash flow and the freedom this brings for development and debt repayment. The farm is also looking much, much healthier with fewer pests, diseases and pugging.
By Sue Edmonds - Farming and Science Writer, Waikato.