Riverina station manager Gavin Bowen with his faithful workers. Picture: Joanna Higgins-Ware

Preview: ‘Complete’ sheep prosper

Stock must be fit and mobile to cut it on the rugged hills of a Wairoa station where the horse, not the bike, is king. Russell Priest paid a visit. Photos by Joanna Higgins-Ware

Wairoa’s Riverina station is an unpredictable environment where lambs can get flystrike a week off the shears.

It is a place where an abundance of feed can disappear fast and where 100mm of rain in 24 hours is not uncommon.

It doesn’t faze Gavin Bowen, 39, who is enjoying the management challenges and achieving good results.

“I’ve learnt to adopt a proactive and long-term approach to management in this environment and be prepared to move quickly if certain indicators start appearing,” Gavin says.

Gavin lives on the station with his fiancee Anna McNicol, 36, who works at Farmlands in Wairoa four days a week.

‘I’ve learnt to adopt a proactive and long-term approach…..and be prepared to move quickly if certain indicators start appearing.’

The farming company Riverina was initially owned by Gavin’s parents Olive and Arthur, but in 2004 ownership was transferred to a trust. About this time the trust bought an adjoining hard 500 hectare hill-country block called Avalon. Before Arthur’s death in 2013 the two blocks had been put on the market but didn’t sell. Gavin was appointed manager and in 2016 the trust bought a further adjoining 340ha of easier hill country known as Carters giving a total area of 2590ha (2147ha effective). Most of the ineffective area is occupied by manuka, kanuka and blackberry.

With a 12km hike to the back of the station, contour that in places is approaching steep-to-overhanging and animals that require regular shifting it is vital that stock are naturally free moving.

It’s no surprise therefore that Perendale is the sheep breed of choice.

Gavin said his father used to run Perendales when he farmed in Southland. Riverina was stocked with Perendales when they bought it.

“So it was only natural we continued farming them.”

He says they suit the country and are extremely mobile, albeit challenging at times.

“I find them exciting to farm and other than a slight lack of fecundity they are the complete sheep in my opinion.”

Our average lamb slaughter weight is 19kg and we have store lamb clients finishing them at 23kg with good grades so there are no problems with them growing on.

“When we took over the Carter block it was running Romneys and while they are good producers we find them very frustrating to muster as they lacked the mobility of our Perendales.”

Riverina is used mainly as a sheep breeding and finishing unit while all the replacement sheep and cattle are grown out on Carters.

Mating the ewe flock on five different dates helps to spread the workload. The five-year ewes are mated to terminal sires starting at the end of February. “B” flock ewes (1400 rejects from the breeding flock and Romneys from the Carter block) are also mated to terminal sires but three weeks later. The mixed-age (MA) Perendale breeding ewes are mated to Longview Perendale rams on April 1 and the two-tooths to similar rams on April 7. Cheviot rams run with the heaviest of the Perendale ewe hoggets from May 1.

  •  More in the October edition of Country-Wide magazine.