Fri, Oct 20, 2023 5:00 AM
Rosie Dowling is the epitome of the hard-working, resourceful and courageous Kiwi farmer who has overcome a major personal crisis to create a successful farm in southern Marlborough.
In addition to establishing a newly purchased farm, Rosie’s life was turned upside down with the sudden death of her husband, leaving her a widow with three young children.
Rosie farms 422ha of east coast, rolling country south of Ward and recently hosted a Field Day organised through the Beef and LambNZ ‘Farming for Profit’ programme.
The farm’s over-arching challenge is the variability of the farm due to harsh summer weather. Her farming system has been designed to be flexible and simple, while providing a stable home environment for herself and her three young children Harry, Digby and Olive.
Kintyre Downs was purchased by Rosie, husband Gavin and Rosie’s brother and sister in-law Simon and Pip Todhunter in 2016. The Farming for Profit group visited the property soon after the purchase and this recent Field Day provided them with an appreciation of the vast strides that have been made.
The priority was to provide fencing, stock water pasture renewal and fertiliser. The hill was divided into 22 paddocks from the original seven and the workable land into 32 from 60. Three wire electrics divide the hill ground and grape posts were repurposed where possible to keep costs down.
Simon estimates the fencing costs at $3 per metre. Second-hand water troughs were acquired through Trade me and 116ha of pastoral renewal and cropping has taken place. Springs were tapped on the hill and water fed to three 30,000 litre tanks. These, together with some dependable ponds, now provide a reliable water system.
Fourteen hectares of pines have been planted combined with 6ha of poplars and 8ha of natives. This has provided the farm with some diversification of income from the Emissions Trading Scheme. Because of this, the carrying capacity of the farm has been lifted by an additional 830 stock units.
In 2020 disaster struck the Dowling family when Gavin suddenly passed away. At the same time Rosie was in Starship hospital with Olive who was suffering from life-threatening heart disease problems, resulting in several major operations and numerous trips to hospital.
Simon and Rosie’s parents Bob and Vicky helped keep the farm going in the interim, but Rosie was determined to make the farm work to provide a stable and secure home life for her family. She recalls taking ‘Gav’s’ dogs out to move a mob of sheep, not knowing their commands or even their names - and the inevitable ensuing chaos.
Farming for the dry summer, the 1550 ewe flock is protected as the capital stock, with Friesian bulls being the flexible component of the stocking regime. Lambs are weaned early in December with those over 33kgs liveweight sold prime. Generally, this amounts to approximately one-third of the flock and the remainder are sold store. All ewes are mated with a terminal sire and replacement ewes are purchased annually.
If the season is favourable some lamb trading may be done over summer. Between 60 to 160 bull calves at 100kg liveweight are purchased annually as well as 40 to 60 18-month-olds weighing between 350kgs to 380kgs. Finished bulls are sold from July and all are gone by Christmas at a target weight of 300kgs on the hook and two to two and a half years old.
The cropping programme includes 20ha of prairie grass, clover and herb mix for finishing stock. Fifteen hectares of lucerne is grazed by lambs and calves and 23 ha of kale is grown and used for tupping and winter grazing.
Simon says he has noticed scanning rates were up by 20 per cent compared to ewes tupped on grass. Ewes are mobbed into 200-plus lots and are moved every five to six days on a 25-day rotation.
In 2021 Rosie was able to purchase the farm from Simon and Pip. She says that, in a good year there is a profit, an average year it breaks even and a poor year a loss, but she is resolved not to push the property to the limit.
Her farming day ends when she picks up the children from school and if some job is not completed that day, it is not important. What is important is to enjoy the farm and provide a comfortable and happy environment where the children can grow up.