Four seasons in one day on the Taihape-Napier Road

4 October 2021

Covering 80,000 acres of central North Island high country, Ngamatea Station is an iconic property in farming circles. It’s also a great place to learn what it takes to reach the top in the industry.

Ngamatea is about 50km along the road from Taihape to Napier and is owned by the Apatu family. With much of the land left as native, about 5700ha is farmed. It’s home to a 100,000-stock unit sheep and beef operation.

Jessee Kereopa is the station manager, with around 12-16 fulltime staff members from a 2IC and senior shepherds monitoring mobs of sheep between 5000-6000 sheep, junior shepherds, fencers, tractor drivers, and even a station cook for the team members living on the farm.

He credits Ngamatea’s leadership, farm consultants and Primary ITO with helping develop his career. “I started off doing Primary ITO courses eight or 10 years ago when I first got introduced to farming and gradually worked my way up.

“It helped me get to where I am today with the courses that I’ve been able to do and get a bit more understanding because Ngamatea’s a pretty intensive operation. It got me up the ladder pretty quick.”

All up, Ngamatea has around 36,000 ewes, 10-12,000 replacement hoggets, 3500 breeding cows, and fattens around 40,000 lambs. Jessee says one of the hardest things with Ngamatea is the high country climate – real four seasons in one day territory. That also means that in the winter there’s very little grass growing and crop feed and supplementary feed is a must.

Jessee says learning through Primary ITO makes a huge difference to what new starters in the industry can do. “A junior who has only just learned what grass was, and how to drench a sheep, can now work out how many kilograms of dry matter that sheep needs to be eating to get to our target weight.”

Second year junior shepherd Flynn Kittow has already completed his Level 2 New Zealand Certificate in Agriculture and is working towards a Level 3 qualification. “I’m enjoying it and learning heaps.” He says that comes through a mix of on-the-job learning, along with intensive courses where people can bring what they learn back to the farm. Junior shepherds will start out with a Level 2 then Level 3 New Zealand Certificate in Agriculture, and as their careers progress they can eventually do a Level 4 programme.

A big part of Ngamatea’s way of working is training people all along their careers to give them the skills to pick up more complex parts of the operation. Jessee says being able to trust senior shepherds with more responsibility means Ngamatea does not have a traditional head shepherd role like many farms.

“We’re confident in them being able to do that on-farm and we’ve found that for us, Primary ITO courses have been one of the main things.”

Jessee says while he does the big picture for Ngamatea, it’s 2IC Harley Neil’s job to “make it happen”. Harley has worked through his Level 2 and 3 qualifications. “I love the challenge and the atmosphere. It’s a good place to be.”

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