Castlepoint Station mate Wagyu bulls with Angus heifers to create terminal sires which they sell on to First Light. PHOTO/SUPPLIED
As a seventh-generation farming family, the Crofoots are always looking for ways to add value to their farming operation.
After 21 years at Castlepoint Station, a 3750-hectare coastal property east of Masterton, they seem to have done just that.
“The goal has always been to have a profitable and sustainable operation,” said Emily Crofoot, the matriarch of the family.
Last week Castlepoint Station was recognised as First Light’s Wagyu Breeder of the Year.
Emily and her husband Anders Crofoot first partnered with the meat marketing company eight years ago.
She said it was a great honour to be recognised.
“We think it’s a great programme.”
First Light is New Zealand’s only commercial producer of grass-fed Wagyu beef and premium venison and is well-known abroad for its high-quality meat products.
The Hawke’s Bay-based company was founded in 2003, by Gerard Hickey, Greg Evans and Jason Ross.
It exports to markets around the world including the United States, UK, France and the United Arab Emirates.
The judging criteria for this award was based on the farm supplying regular weight files, focus on IMF [intra-muscular fat ratios in the meat] in their breeding programme, and their flexibility and willingness to help by grazing additional weaners this year.
Judges also said the station produced “very good” Angus/Wagyu weaners from their heifers.
Castlepoint Station didn’t always run Angus or Wagyu cattle though.
The station was formerly run with Santa Gertrudis, a breed best suited to hot climates, before the Crofoots changed tack about fifteen years ago.
“Those Brahman type cattle grow well in hot and humid climates, but our Wairarapa climate is not the same as Northern Queensland,” Emily said.
“We felt that Angus, with their ability to eat poorer quality feed and turn that into milk for their calves, was a better fit for the property.”
Now they have a herd of about 450 Angus cows. The base genetics are Waigroup Angus and we are now using sires from Mt Linton Genetics, one of New Zealand’s largest privately-owned stations, located in Western Southland.
The Wagyu bulls are put to about 150 of their Angus heifers to produce calves all of which are sold on to First Light.
Station manager Jacques Reinhardt said they chose the Angus breed for their foraging ability and relative calving ease.
“Angus is the practical station type of cow,” he said.
The Wagyu breed’s small stature also contributes to easier calving, but their different body type can cause confusion.
When Reinhardt first arrived and saw the Crofoot’s Wagyu bulls, he mistook them for a pair of sick Angus bulls.
“I thought they were two sick looking bulls that needed to be dog tuckered,” he said with a laugh.
While the goal for most bull breeders is a rectangular body shape, Wagyu bulls tend to taper off at the rear giving them a more trapezoid shape.
“Wagyu bulls are quite a different shape,” Emily agreed. “They’re everything a bull is not meant to be. However, once everyone has eaten the meat produced, they are more tolerant of their appearance!”
She said cattle play a complementary role on sheep farms, as they eat different types of forages and pick up different worms.
“A big fast-growing animal is efficient at growing meat, but the bigger the cow, more feeding needs to go into maintenance,” Anders said.
“One benefit of living on a coastal station is the sulphur effect from the sea, as this is beneficial for clover growth.
“The biggest challenge for this property is the winds.”
Castlepoint and other properties along Eastern Wairarapa contend with strong winds which have a drying effect on the soil.
Reinhardt said the property records an average rainfall of about 1000ml each year, but the topography of the land and type of soil meant this moisture is often lost in the wind.
“We’ve got medium to steep land. It’s hard for people with deeper soils to appreciate that our soils don’t retain moisture as readily,” he said.
Challenging and changing climactic conditions are part of the reason the Crofoots decided to partner with First Light and why they encourage others to find similar programmes.
Emily said there is no doubt that strong alliances is the future for those in the agriculture industry and that there is a need to produce premium products with added value which have a good story.
“I think there’s something really pleasing about producing to meet customer’s demands and being able to supply what the market wants.
“Grass fed is very important to the American market and New Zealand growers are uniquely situated with our climate to do that well.
“New Zealand agriculture has so many great stories of sustainable production and working with First Light is a great opportunity to share those stories, as this is where value is created.”
Anders likes the First Light Model, their knowledge of international markets and the level of feedback offered.
They receive carcass quality information including marbling scores and other results, even though the animals left the property as weaners. Annual regional ‘hub’ meetings allow for all of the region’s producers to meet.
The Crofoots take pride in knowing their Wagyu-Angus cross is graded equivalent to USDA prime — the finest quality beef in the US.
“The exciting thing is that this is the number one grass fed beef,” Reinhardt said. “It means it’s in high demand which puts a higher premium on it.”
First Light is looking to attract other farmers to meet increasing consumer demands from those in the US. There are several supplier options, from breeding to backgrounding to finishing.
More information can be found at: firstlight.farm/