Article published in BusinessRural. by Kim Newth

Five years after George and Caroline Ritchie took the plunge to leave the city behind and go cattle farming, the entrepreneurial couple are flourishing and have added dairy to their breeding and finishing operation.

George spent 10 years building a career in international banking in Hong Kong before returning to Wellington, where he met Caroline. Their shared rural backgrounds paved the way towards the idea of going farming. While looking for a farm to lease, George spent six months working at Kakahu Angus with his cousin Gerald Hargreaves and was soon sold on the merits of Angus EBVs.

When Caroline’s family farm at Martinborough – ‘Ongaha’ – came up for lease in 2013, the couple seized the opportunity to take on the 370ha rolling hill country property and a rugged 900ha hill country property at Bideford, (‘Earlyhurst’).

George and Caroline have since developed Ongaha, where they live, as an efficient finishing operation, with experienced farm manager George Callaghan running Earlyhurst as the breeding farm. They started out with around 11,000 stock units but this has now expanded to 18,000 to 19,000 as a result of adding dairy stock to the equation, as well as expanding beef numbers through the acquisition of a third farm, Wharepuke, as a wintering platform. Earlyhurst has around 8000 stock units, comprising 5500 ewes and replacements and 200 Angus breeding cows. Ongaha’s finishing stock includes Friesian bulls, prime angus beef animals and lambs.

“We certainly don’t have any calving issues. At Ongaha we’re calving 70 heifers this year and the staff have been commenting on how calm and quiet the cows are when they check them.”

“We bought a 70ha block of land down the road [Wharepuke] and lease another 30ha next to it. This is really stony country to complement the Ongaha finishing farm so we can winter cattle a bit easier … We’ve also gone into a 50/50 dairy partnership with my father-in-law, with a once-a-day (OAD) herd bought from Taranaki; his farm adjoins Ongaha. We’re into our third season with that now.”

He says the low cost OAD milking system has been working well. “We’re hitting our targets, but are looking to bring down our slightly high stocking rates.”