Case study: Mahoe Farm, Mauriceville

15 April 2015

This award-winning farm showcases an innovative business model, with dairy support integrated into a traditional sheep and beef property.

Mahoe Farm, north of Masterton, won the Beef + Lamb New Zealand Livestock Award at this year's Greater Wellington Ballance Farm Environment Awards. Though there are 3,000 Romney Coopworth breeding ewes on the property, it is the dairy stock that the operation is structured around.

Around 7,500su are wintered on 550ha effective. The contour is mainly rolling hill with some steep bluffs. It is about 60 percent limestone country, but has some erosion-prone mudstone areas that have had significant pole planting. Snow falls on part of the farm at least once each winter.

No cattle over two years old are carried through the winter. The cows are block raised on kale in the winter, moved at least every two days. Mobile feed troughs provide a PKE energy mix daily. They are weighed monthly. "Getting them through the long winter to their target weight of 500kgs is the main thing," explains Vaughan Marfell.

Vaughan and wife Jen began their association with Mahoe in 1995 when Vaughan became manager of what was then a 454ha property. Today the Mauriceville property is 711ha, through purchase of a neighbouring farm in 2007, and Vaughan and Jen are equity shareholders in the company farming it. This is, noted the award judges, a very successful operation, "a sound use of business partnerships".

The judges wrote of the Marfells: "The vision and passion that this family has for the land and their business is inspiring." Vaughan and Jen appreciate the place can be called home for them and their three children Ashleigh (21), Daniel (19) and Sarah (17). They say progressing from farm manager into the equity partnership in 2002 gave them "great security and incentive".

Mahoe Farm is the dairy grazing and sheep breeding and finishing arm of TSM Farms Ltd, which also owns stock, plant and machinery on an 1150-cow Wairarapa dairy unit. The company was set up by landowner Graeme Tulloch and structured by accountant Stephen Kerr. TSM leases the land and Graeme Tulloch is majority shareholder with the Marfells, and the family operating the dairy unit, Richard, Megan, Damon and Simon Searle, owning 20 percent each.

"Graeme originally bought Mahoe for a summer safe place to grow out the young stock for his dairy farms," explains Vaughan. However the progression to the company structure ensured stability. "He has a great belief that a business is only as good as it's staff."

Adds Jen: "Graeme is more than a business partner to us, we have formed a pretty special relationship. He is our mentor both on and off the farm. He takes a genuine interest in our children and values us as a family."

Vaughan hires casual staff and contractors as required on Mahoe. A keen dog man, he is currently president of the Masterton Dog Trial Club and he has an ongoing commitment to help Taratahi students with dog training.

Judges comments

  • Innovative business model with dairy support integrated into a traditional sheep and beef model
  • Achieving excellent kg/ha of production through good stockmanship and pasture management
  • Very target orientated with weight gains in all livestock
  • Great "do it once, do it properly" approach
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