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Large diversified livestock farming businesses that focus on high-end progeny can flourish with savvy management and good teamwork. Tom Macfarlane explains his operational philosophy to Angus Kebbell

Rural News / opinion
Large diversified livestock farming businesses that focus on high-end progeny can flourish with savvy management and good teamwork. Tom Macfarlane explains his operational philosophy to Angus Kebbell
Canterbury foothills farm landscape

This week on Factum-Agri, we are talking to farmer Tom Macfarlane. His journey in farming has recently seen a significant transformation, through the consolidation of his farming business. Previously, he operated a stud farm in Southland alongside his Canterbury operation. However, a pivotal decision was made to close the Southland operation, redirecting all focus and energy towards the Canterbury properties. The farming operation in Canterbury has been enhanced by the venison deer stud stock from Southland.


The Melior farming operation in Canterbury covers 2300 hectares divided between two distinct blocks, The first block, a predominantly High Country expanse of 1500 hectares nestled in Kimball, now hosts the majority of their breeding stock. The second block, spanning approximately 650 hectares, stretches between Geraldine and Fairlie and boasts 180 hectares of irrigation, where majority of their progeny are finished. In total, their enterprise manages a significant 20,000 stock units.

This year they will be calving 2600 hinds, 440 cows, and 1800 ewes. and handling the crucial task of nurturing all progeny. In addition to their venison stud focus, the team run 600 stags through for breeding purposes, just for selection pressure on their breeding program. With 600 stags, a fair bit of velvet is cut but it is not central to their business.  

Macfarlane says that it has been an interesting couple of years with the market pressures from COVID and breeders wore the brunt of the market downturn. “From a stud point of view when we rely on selling sires to breeders, there's been a fair bit of contraction across the whole industry, because it just was the worst profitability of our whole enterprise. But at the same time with the deer industry stuff that we get involved in, the people that are left are really focused on what they're doing. And there's been a lot more focus on you know, efficiencies with the finishing animals and, you know, focus on parasites with the right breeding stock and those sorts of things. So people are really starting to get tuned into what genetics are right.”

“The finishes are about the same to be fare It's really focused them in on going okay, these deer are the right fit these are going to make me money even at these lower schedules, but even though these other ones might be slightly cheaper, the genetics in them don't dictate that they grow enough and therefore I won’t be able to kill them in a suitable time and therefore I'm not going to make enough. That’s our bread and butter from a stud breeding point of view, too. So there's been advantages and disadvantages, it's been bloody tough from a financial point of view. And if we weren't all in house it would have been very challenging to make it make it work. But over that period, we've sort of almost doubled down. When we took on the lease block, there was a lot of sheep and we had to develop the deer fencing. So we've traded out of sheep on a reasonable high over the last two years and retained deer numbers. so that's actually worked good from a trade point of view for our own business anyway.”

Macfarlane stands as an industry leader. His farming journey showcases good diversity within his system, and he is buoyed with venison making a strong comeback – something all deer farmers can celebrate.

Yet, he brings up a vital point - the need for farmers to see more substantial returns from the food they produce for international markets. It's a question worth pondering: Are the current policies steering us in the right direction, or do they hinder the returns that our farmers say they deserve?

Listen to the podcast to hear the full interview.

Angus Kebbell is the Producer at Tailwind Media. You can contact him here.

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