The McCormicks have been farming Homeplace in Central Hawke's Bay since 1953, with Mike and Robyn taking over from Mike’s parents in 1989. Part of the farm was sold in 2019, bringing the total down to 230ha plus 87ha owned in conjunction with Mike’s younger sister. The farm is situated at Hatuma on summer dry limestone country. “Mostly rolling to medium steep country; really good stock country,” Mike says.
Homeplace carries red deer and cattle, with a few trade lambs when seasons allow. On the deer side, the farm has a velvet herd and breeds its own replacements.
“Two thirds of the stags were sold in 2019 when the money was too good to turn down so we’re in a rebuilding phase,” Mike says.
“We have 100 ma hinds and supporting stock (yearlings and two-year-olds) and 240 mixed-age stags; they did 6.85kg per head of first cut velvet last year. That is our best average; the genetics are improving every year.”
The beef side is all Wagyu-dairy cross. They started with weaners and are now buying them as older cattle as and when it suits the farm or the season.
“We have been getting them as yearlings to 18 months. We finish some and some we sell to a specialist finisher. They take a lot of feeding; you can’t afford to cheat them at any stage because the first thing to go is internal fat and that’s your marbling and you work hard get it back. Like anything, the better you fed them, the better results you get.”
Originally, he says they asked about Wagyu because he “hates Friesian bulls with a passion”.
“A lot of people like farming heifers because they are easy to farm, but they’re pricey to buy and the margins aren’t as good as bulls; with Wagyu you can get a better margin while still farming heifers. With the Wagyu, you know what you’re getting. The better you do them, the better you do. With the dairy side, it can be hard because dairy farmers don’t pick their cows on how their progeny marble; that side is a bit hit and miss but still does well enough for me to stay in them. I like farming them and the returns are good enough to keep me there.”
Four seasons on from their first crop of Wagyu, Mike says they still have a lot to learn but he says Wagyu are wonderful cattle to farm with a good temperament.
“That dairy-cross factor also means whenever you go through a gate they try to follow you through,” he laughs. “They’re really a joy to farm. Typical dairy cattle… inquisitive.”
One of Mike and Robyn’s sons, Kurt, is a helicopter pilot in Taihape, while his younger brother, Todd, works on the farm alongside his parents.
Robyn has been a teacher aide at the local primary school for the past 20 years and helps Mike as logistics manager for the Lindisfarne College clay target shooting team, which Mike coaches. The team is currently one of the top three school teams in the country. Mike had seven years on the NZ Clay Target Association’s secondary schools’ subcommittee and also did a stint as President of the Patangata Clay Target Club. Mike, Kurt and Todd are keen clay target shooters with Todd twice having represented New Zealand in Olympic Trap at the Oceania Games.
Mike was also chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Deer Farmers Association from 2003 to 2010.