Peter and Joc Kinney have been farming at Culverden in North Canterbury for the past 20 years. Their four sons – Charlie, Sam, Alex and Max – are the fifth generation to live on Ballindalloch.
Twelve hundred cows are milked on the 326ha site, which has a 220ha dairy support block down the road. Adjacent to that is Beechwood, a 275ha beef farm running between 1300 and 1400 cattle, of which 35% are Wagyu. All the farms are under centre pivot irrigation with water supplied through the Amuri Irrigation Company, which acts as a collective and audits their on-farm environmental plans.
The Kinneys initially bought Beechwood to convert to dairy. But Peter says the climate was changing and they also wanted to diversify the farming operation. It has also ensured the ongoing involvement of the boys, two of whom are boarders in Christchurch with the younger two at the local area school.
“Having the boys involved is very important to us,” Joc says, “feeling that connection with the land and the stock and with what we do.”
In 2015, Peter and Joc bought some Wagyu weaners.
“We heard about them through word of mouth. We were looking at different beef options and Wagyu came out as an option that gave us a bit of diversity within the beef operation,” Peter says.
In the following years, they came to understand more about First Light as a company and its aspirations.
“We liked what First Light was all about – a leading company doing innovative things, controlling the process from the growing through to the sale.”
Joc says they also liked that it was New Zealand-owned and how it evolved.
“It has a good feel about it. It involves other farming families. Some are quite different to us but we’re all on the same page. It does actually feel like a family and I really like that,” she says.
“Plus it is front-footing and leading all those customer-driven aspects such as grass-fed, antibiotic free, non-GMO, Certified Humane and the whole animal welfare side. Rather than waiting for things to happen, First Light was taking a leading step in that regard.”
The dairy herd is the breeding platform to supply the beef animals for the beef unit, Peter says.
“We’re using sexed semen over our best dairy cows to generate our replacements which gives us the ability to use more beef semen over the rest of the herd cows. Wagyu fits in there strongly in that we mate our first-calving yearling heifers to Wagyu where otherwise they would probably be mated to Jersey and their calves bobbied. The Wagyus are easy calving and this captures value from those animals that would otherwise be lost.”
The Wagyu calves are mostly reared on Beechwood by the dairy team. They are grass fed on irrigated pasture and wintered on fodder beet, pasture and silage.
“We enjoy working with the Wagyu cattle - their temperament is very good and they are relaxing to work with. We enjoy the challenge of getting the best out of these cattle by striving to achieve high marble scores.”