Hawke’s Bay based Brownrigg Agriculture is one of the largest farming agri-businesses operating in New Zealand. Its main focus is on finishing livestock and cropping – both on a large scale.

“We are fairly flexible and that’s our strength. We match feed supply and demand, says Hayden Ashby, the company’s livestock operations manager.

“Brownrigg Agriculture comprises 12 farms, most of them comprising livestock and cropping operations, plus a few straight cropping blocks. The total area is 9955 hectares, including a mix of freehold and leasehold land. The majority of our farms are in the Poukawa and Te Aute Valleys (45 kilometres south of Napier), plus four farms outside of those valleys and a fifth in Wairoa.

“Each of our 12 livestock farms has its own manager, and while each is run autonomously, and there is a strong element of healthy competition between individual managers, an overall team approach is taken. We model each farm individually through our Farmax farm monitoring programme.”

David Brownrigg oversees the company’s livestock operations while his brother, Jonathan focuses on the cropping programme.

Finishing lambs, says Hayden Ashby, is the primary enterprise of the livestock division of the company.

“The main aim of our lamb finishing operation is to purchase sound lambs of various breeds but good potential and grow them out in a manner which maximises carcass weight while meeting the grading criteria of the individual processing companies which we deal with. We are all about adding value by maximising per head performance and throughput while maintaining efficiency.

“Our finishing systems are predominantly based on rotational grazing year round. This allows us to feed and grow our lambs in a manner that fits their liveweight profile and frame size. We start buying our lambs in April and May and the first draft of lambs go out the farm gate in June depending on the season.

“On arrival, lambs are graded into pre-determined weight ranges and are then allocated a rotation. Lighter, smaller-framed lambs are sent to our hill rotations to grow their frames and larger, heavier lambs are sent to our finishing country to fatten prior to killing.”

Te Pari-manufactured Racewell sheep handling systems play a pivotal role in Brownrigg’s lamb finishing programme.

The company has no fewer than nine of them – all fully automated, top-of-the-line systems - with the latest model, a Racewell Super Handler featuring a three way drafting system, being bought in July. The oldest Racewell in use was bought three years ago.

Their constant use, especially when it comes to selecting the top lambs on finishing rotations, justifies the outlay says Hayden Ashby.

“As our systems are rotationally grazed the year round, there is a lot of time spent shifting and checking mobs at various locations," he says.

“Spring is always a busy time as we tend to split our rotations in half to allow full feeding of all stock which effectively doubles the number of mobs on the farm and also doubles the amount of time required to shift and check them! It is also our main killing period, where we see the majority of our lambs killed between early September and mid November.

“By having the Racewell system, it cuts down the amount of time we spend in the yards sorting up lines for picking and trucking. It also reduces the number of people involved in these processes.

“Before the Racewell systems were introduced, we would have up to three or four labour units involved with weighing large lines and drafting them up. They could put through about 700 lambs an hour if the going was good.

“With the Racewell systems, we can do 700 – 900 lambs an hour with just a single labour unit and a good dog. These lambs are weighed and drafted at the same time and can also be dagged if required, using the tilt function and portable dagging unit on the Racewell.”

The quality or sturdiness of the Racewell systems is evidenced by the workload which each of the systems is required to stand up to. Each of the 12 farms finishes between 10,000 and 18,000 lambs per winter. Every lamb is weighed at least twice in the season – realistically it would be closer to three or four times -which equates to between 20,000 and 36,000 weighings per winter and up to 72,000 weighings if each lamb is weighed four times.

“The only thing we could do to improve our Racewells, is to put an extra set of drafting gates on the front to take it to a five way draft. Having said that, I’m pretty impressed with the system itself, and the volume of work which it is capable of handling,” enthuses Hayden.

The founding of Brownrigg Agriculture traces to when Harry Brownrigg, the grandfather of David and Jonathan, settled in the Hawke’s Bay in 1930.

Harry emigrated from Ireland, and worked on a farm at Massey College (now Massey University) before settling on a ballot farm in the Hawke’s Bay. That property, which is accessed from the appropriately named Pukekura Settlement Road, is in the centre of the current farming operation.

Three successive generations of Brownrigg family members have developed the farming enterprise to what it is today.