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An enduring connection to the land sees Otairi Station thrive

An enduring connection to the land sees Otairi Station thrive

An enduring connection to the land sees Otairi Station thrive

The land originally purchased by the Duncan family over 150 years ago now forms a part of the much larger Otairi Station. The Duncan family is led by Douglas and Joss, whose children are now heavily involved in the farming business – the sixth generation to work the land in Hunterville.

During their time farming, Douglas and Joss established Otairi Limited which owns and operates three farms and a range of other agricultural businesses. Their children, Sam, Tom and Mark, along with Douglas and Joss, manage the businesses.

Over the years, Otairi Station has had various ownership structures though it has always remained in the Duncan family. Douglas says at one point there were 40 shareholders, now there is only one as it was when the Duncan's first bought the land many years ago.

Otairi Limited includes Otairi Station, the main farm – a sheep and beef breeding farm that sends stock to two other farms, Flockhart in Marton and Waipu Farm in Turakina, for finishing. Waipu is both sheep and beef finishing and part dairy operation.

Douglas first got involved in Otairi Station as a shepherd in the mid 1970s then moved into its management in the early 1980s. Over time, through his involvement in the meat industry, Douglas grew the business, providing them with the diversity needed to endure difficult times. Douglas says he puts his success down to maintaining the right level of debt and creating cash through other agricultural businesses that allowed him to expand the farms.

“Diversifying is good as not everything is up at the same time. At the moment, for example, milk and beef prices are OK, but lamb and wool prices are down. It allows us to see tough times through. Since COVID-19, our costs have risen a lot including fuel, fertiliser and interest rates and that creates pressure too,” says Douglas.

Otairi Station, Waipu Farm and Flockhart are overseen by Douglas and Joss’ son Sam. He began managing Otairi Station 12 years ago, though that role has since been overtaken by Taylor Hill.

“We are 70/30 sheep to beef, finishing some lambs at weaning, with the rest going to the finishing farms, Flockhart and Waipu. We breed mainly Angus cows and Romney Texel sheep as they grow and yield well on the hard hill country on Otairi,” says Sam.

With a strong connection to the land having grown up on the farms, Sam gained experience as a shepherd elsewhere before moving back home to work on the farms. He enjoys working with the teams on the farms; the banter and the chance to get out on horseback. Around 70 percent of Otairi Station is only accessible by horseback thanks to its predominantly steep hill country.

“It's good for the young guys to get experience out on a horse with their dogs. Plus, using horses makes it easier to get around and muster even in difficult conditions. I enjoy that we still use a traditional way of farming,” says Sam.

Held yearly on the farm, the Mountainbike and Trail Run is a fundraiser for Hunterville School. Sam says in past years, they have raised up to $12,000. This year, Otairi Station will host the main events at the Otairi-Pukeroa dog trials. With Sam himself a long-time dog triallist, he will compete in the huntaway events.

During autumn, Sam says the team is busy transporting the remaining lambs and calves at Otairi Station to the finishing farms while tupping the ewes, ready for the rams.

Sam shares that they have previously had issues with worms on one of the finishing blocks. To discuss animal health and how to manage the increasing risk of drench resistance, PGG Wrightson's Technical Expert in Animal Production Andrew Dowling visited Otairi Station. There he discussed the farm’s animal health plan and offered alternative ways of managing resistance with cropping and grazing strategies. Sam says the day was worthwhile and he is keen to do it every year.

The Otairi Station team receives support from PGG Wrightson Technical Field Representative Olivia Rhodes. Recently, Olivia completed soil testing around the farm on horseback.

“We test every paddock on the farm every three years. From there, with the help of Olivia, we formulate a fertiliser plan, maintaining healthy phosphorus levels to ensure our pasture renewal is successful,” says Sam.

“We purchase our fertiliser, animal health, fencing and other general products through the PGG Wrightson Hunterville store. Olivia helps us by organising products and delivering them to the farms which makes our lives much easier.”

The Duncan family played a major part in bringing the PGG Wrightson store to Hunterville, as Douglas explains.

“As owners of Taylor's General Store in Hunterville, my brother and I realised by 2018 that we were struggling to offer farm supplies. So, we approached PGG Wrightson to see if a store could be opened in the back of our building. Having a PGG Wrightson store locally is important for farmers and it's good for our town which would struggle otherwise.

“I've been with PGG Wrightson for many years, back to my father who was a customer. We’ve had some great people over the years helping us,” says Douglas.