Never a dull moment for busy contractors

 

By Rob Tipa

There are not too many dull moments between spring and autumn for Murray and Nick Johns, who between them run two sheep farms, a busy agricultural contracting business and a farm forestry operation near Dipton.

Murray went contracting in the Dipton area in 1969 with the intention of buying a farm, and achieved that goal in 1978 when he bought a property on hill country close to the central Southland town.

"I must be a slow learner because I'm still contracting," Murray jokes. These days Johns Contracting has a full range of gear and up to six tractors working at the peak of the season with help from a few casual drivers.

 Every decade or so Murray bought another block of land and has steadily expanded his farm to 340ha, with 50ha planted in trees, mostly pines.

Nick has his own 60 hectare block nearby and leases another 48 hectares. Together the pair now run 3000 Perendale ewes, 750 hoggets, and winter 160 rising one and two-year-old cattle. 

With such a busy contracting schedule through spring and summer, Murray and Nick were keen to speed up their stock work so were looking for a faster method of weighing and drafting stock.

"Often we've got to get a mob of lambs into the yards in the morning and have them all weighed up by lunchtime so we can do contracting work in the afternoon," Murray says. "We just had too many lambs to try and weigh and it was taking too long."

He looked at a couple of alternatives on the market at the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek and decided on a Racewell Super Drafter from Te Pari Products in Oamaru. After one full season of drafting and weighing between 6000 and 7000 lambs, they are well pleased with their choice.

 

"The thing that impressed me with this one was that it is suspended rather than supported from below, so there are no problems with the load bars getting clogged up with dirt," Murray says. All the working parts are enclosed in a waterproof cover but the Johns set it up each season under covered yards.

 

"When we wean we set the Racewell up, run the lambs through and draft off the best of those to sell as milk lambs," Murray says.

They draft three ways into light, medium and works lambs. The first time lambs went over the scales they balked a bit, but soon got used to moving through at a steady walking pace.

Working alone with a couple of dogs, Murray or Nick can push through about 500 lambs an hour or 600 lambs an hour with both of them on the job.

 

"Through the season we know which day the drafter is coming so we draft every fortnight," Murray says. "Every lamb that went to the works last season went over the scales at least once. "

 

It is a very effective management tool, Nick says because once you draft off the bigger and smaller lambs, mobs tend to do better on their own.

 

"We set targets of say over 40kgs, 38 to 40kgs and under 38kgs," he says. "Once you finish you can reset the scales and weigh the lambs again, set a higher target weight and, depending on the season, get a better return for heavier lambs if you have plenty of feed."

 

More frequent drafts and the accuracy of the weights has already improved their returns.

 

"I wouldn't say it has totally paid for itself last season, but because you have more lambs in a better weight range, shall we say you do get rewarded," Murray says. "You're not getting penalised for those light ones."

 

"I was quite impressed with it," he said. "I like to just stand back and watch the gates open automatically and the lambs move through as fast as they can walk. It's very accurate and the scales don't lie."

 

A job that used to take them four hours now takes about an hour and a half. And that leaves plenty of time for lunch and time to fire up the tractors for some contracting work before dark.