Student Blog: Two Weeks in New Zealand Studying Agriculture and Animal Production

On August 7, 27 Texas A&M students set out on a journey of a lifetime to study agriculture and animal production in New Zealand. With a 2-week itinerary planned from morning to evening, the study abroad program provided students with a general understanding and evaluation of aspects of the livestock industry, role of international agriculture and its demands, and new technologies in New Zealand. Through Farm-to-Farm Tours, students gained knowledge of sheep, dairy, beef and deer production systems with focus on grazing management, efficient large-scale dairy production operations and facilities for processing wool production.

Kayley Wall, junior animal science major from Boerne, Tx, shared details of their trip and documented the many great experiences the group enjoyed.

By Kayley Wall

New Zealand day-1bDay 1

We arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, and quickly began our trip touring New Zealand’s largest city and ship yard. We were able to sight-see and walk the streets – our first real view of New Zealand and its people. We were able to see many views of Auckland’s skyline, the “sparkling sea” and other beautiful volcanoes. Our bus driver explained that there are even rules in place to prevent anyone from building homes on top of the hills as to not disrupt others’ view of the country side. The weather was beautiful for a winter day, and we took a hike up one of the large volcanoes there in the area in order to get an even better view. We also appreciated the time to recover from the flight, visit some retail areas and walk Auckland University’s campus before dinner.

New Zealand day-2cDay 2

We departed from Auckland and headed to Rotorua bright and early. On the way, we stopped at our first farm, a share milking operation. The young couple shared information about the farm, their operations and cows. With experience in accounting, they proved they are very successful on the farm and have huge opportunities up ahead as they won first prize in the regional share milking competitions this past year. We learned about the plate meter the farmer used to manage his pastures and the stock numbers in each. Also, he explained his pasture rotation methods which helped to prevent pugging (cattle getting stuck in the mud), over grazing and inconsistency of forage intake. Next, we enjoyed our time on a kiwi fruit farm. It was everyone’s first experience indulging the golden kiwi fruits, and we are still talking about them at each meal. The farmer shared his insight about the use of his land which is less than two hectares and the challenges he is currently facing. Unfortunately, the golden kiwi fruits are the only type that are susceptible to PSA, a virus which causes white bumps on the exterior of the fruit; therefore, his most profitable (and best tasting) fruit is currently off the market. The farmer also showed us examples of the grafting techniques he uses in order to produce the most fruit at an efficient rate.

New Zealand day-3dDay 3

We left Rotorua and headed out for a day packed with plenty to do and see. Our first stop was at the Agrodome where we watched a show about the breeds of sheep, shearing, working dogs and milking in New Zealand. We were introduced to several breeds which were unfamiliar to many of us. One of these breeds was the Perendale which was developed by Massey University in New Zealand. From there, we made the short distance to Rainbow Springs, a nature preserve for viewing the local flora and fauna. We were able to get our first glimpse of the nocturnal Kiwi bird – the national bird of New Zealand. It was also interesting to learn that New Zealand had only one or two native plant and animal species; the rest of its environment was brought over by either the British, Polynesians, or the Maori people. Next, we made our journey to a farm near Lake Rotorua where we partook in a typical, delicious New Zealand lunch of lamb, cuscus, and potatoes. The farmer and his family explained their operation and the details of how they manage their sheep, dairy bulls and bull beef herds. We were surprised to find that he weighed all of his livestock every week in order to track their progress. He also maintained his pastures with a plate meter and used fertilizer to promote growth. The biggest challenges he faced were internal parasites in the livestock and phosphorus and nitrate run-offs contaminating the lake and biological life below them. We were amazed by the farmer’s coordination with the New Zealand government, for they were relied on as a resource for determining proper limits for a balance of optimizing pasture management while preventing excessive run-off contamination of phosphorus and nitrates. After much dialogue, we returned to Rotorua and were introduced to the Maori culture and hot springs. We enjoyed the tour through the natural hot springs and actively partook in the ceremonies of the Maori people. The Maori people have worked to preserve their culture despite living amongst the rest of New Zealand. Our tour guide explained that her family only spoke Maori in her home and English outside of it as she feels it is important for her kids to be able to speak and understand the two national languages with ease. We were able to experience a tribal ceremony first hand, and some of us were even able to join in. We listened to the famous, old “Love Story” which explained some of the history of the Maori people as well as participated in the tribal warrior dance, the Haka, which was used to intimidate enemy peoples. Today, the Haka is incorporated into the opening ceremonies at rugby games.

New Zealand day-4cDay 4

We left Rotorua and headed to Taupo for our first farm stop for the morning. We visited the red deer farm which was quite a sight to see! The farmer showed us his farm where he raised a hybrid red deer as well as many other species of deer, yaks, goats, and zebras; however, he only harvested the red deer for their velvet and venison. He also presented his art sculptures and paintings. We were intrigued to find some of his sculptures distributed in towns throughout the south island. After a morning tea and several questions, we traveled to just outside Palmerston North where we learned about the farmer’s operation and the practice of finishing livestock in New Zealand. We were surprised by the management practices and the numbers of the operation as the farmer would pass upwards of 18,000 heads of sheep through his farm a year. He utilized a system and made all of his decisions based off numbers. He weighed all of his stock each week and operated a three way sort gate to sort out those lambs which would graze a heavier covered pasture, lower quality pasture, and those which would be sent to the harvesting plant that day. However, he did not view his management practice as intensive, for he knew exactly what his pastures could produce on a set number of head a week. It was astounding to learn he could put up to 13-15 kg (28-33 lbs.) of weight on a lamb within about 5 weeks’ time on an “average pasture cover.” We continued on to Palmerston North for the night.

New Zealand day-5bDay 5

From Palmerston North, we traveled to Wellington, New Zealand’s capitol city. We were able to take a tour around town by bus and learn more about the city. It was interesting to learn about the dynamics of the city and the people. We were surprised to learn about how homes were built on the side of the hills, for the floor plans proved them to be of a more vertical build with some garages being built on the top of the house! Many of the homes also had their own personal elevator in order to reach the front door, especially in the snow. We took a picture on the parliament building steps, next to the “Bee-Hive” or Congress building, before saying farewell to our bus driver and the north island. Next, we took a 3 hour ferry ride to Picton on the south island, and traveled a short distance to Blenheim where we stayed for the night.

New Zealand day-6cDay 6

Today, we visited the Avery family farm a short distance from Blenheim. Mr. Avery gave a spectacular presentation full of information and inspiration. We learned about the modifications he had made to his land in order to support more livestock and be more productive and proficient. He explained that with an investment of about $1,200NZ/hectare into planting Lucerne (alfalfa) in his fields, he could generate upwards of $2,500 profit per hectare. Mr. Avery also shared his outlook on taking what you have and working with it to get the most out of your investments. Next, we traveled to Kaikoura and enjoyed the beautiful sights of the ocean and marine life. We took a short hike up to the seal pups’ playground under a waterfall. After a picnic lunch, we continued on to Christchurch and briefly toured the largest city of the South Island. The devastation the city had faced due to the earthquakes was evident on nearly every street. Christchurch is also where our tour guide, James Dixon, is from, and his commentary proved the damage had touched not only the streets but also the people of the city.

New Zealand day-7cDay 7

We spent the morning visiting more of the city and its retail areas before driving through Lincoln University – the agriculture school of New Zealand. We drove on through the Canterbury Plains to visit a grain farm. The farm was impeccable and featured a father-son operation. They took the time to show us their fields and explain their production and economic decisions. The farmer described how he turned his sheep-oriented farm into a grain production. We also found it interesting that one of the beer companies asked them to grow a particular plot of barley for their beer brand, which was quite an honor as only 2 farms in the area had been contracted to do so. From here, we traveled on to Twizel, our home for the night.

New Zealand day-8aDay 8

Our first stop of the morning was at a Salmon farm. We were able to feed some of the two year old salmon and learn about the ways of salmon farming in the banks of the hydro canal. We tried the specialty hot-smoked and cool-smoked salmon before getting back on the road. We made our way to the Top Flite farm, a specialty bird feed farm. It was interesting to hear the different business perspectives and ideas for operation that each of the three company owners had, for the father-son-cousin team were separated by about 30 years of age. They explained their practices, sales, products and markets, and they were shocked to think we ate/spat sunflower seeds. Next, we made our way to Dunedin for the night. We stopped to view the Otago University and ate at the Lone Star restaurant that night.

photo-4Day 9

We spent most of the day traveling and enjoying the beautiful sights of the farmlands. We made a farm stop around lunchtime at Mount Linton. This privately-owned sheep and cattle station was quite a sight as they ran 60,000 head of sheep, 3,000 head of cattle, and used 120 dogs! We were informed about the management of such a large operation and the development on its own breed, the Suftex. The Suftex offered many aspects attributed to the hybrid vigor of the cross. They were very hardy, good quality carcasses, high yields, quick gains, great mothers and have hair that grows around the mammary area and head, eliminating the need for crutching prior to lambing. The genetic flock manager explained the station’s outlook on producing high quality carcasses and fleeces on a profitable scale. He explained how the topography of the area affected the paddocks in which the lambs were run. Mount Linton has become very successful at finding a way to utilize the hill country area without detriment to their production. While we were there, the sheep were in a paddock full of Swedes, the winter crop, and were going to be brought in soon and set-stocked to different pastures across the place in accordance to the grass cover, whether the ewe was carrying twins or a single and geography of the land. We were stunned by the fact that up to 7,000 ewes a day were able to be scanned to determine if they were open or the number they were carrying with 99 percent accuracy at day 90 of gestation by 2 operators. After a great visit, we moved on to Te Anua and enjoyed a relaxing evening.

Day 10

We drove through the mountains on our way to take a wildlife boat tour at lunch. Afterwards, we had time to go visit the glow worm caves and relax in Te Anua.

New Zealand photo-16Day 11

After breakfast, we drove to Queenstown, our last town of the trip. We visited a winery and enjoyed a wine and cheese tasting. Next, we ate lunch in Arrowtown, an old historic tourist town just outside Queenstown. Some of the group went skiing and the rest went bungy jumping off a 43 m bridge! That night, we had time to enjoy the town and views.

New Zealand photo-10Day 12

We took a short drive to visit the last of our farm tours. The farmer produced wool for the Icebreaker brand of clothing which is very popular in New Zealand, and he also farmed deer for their velvet antlers. The farm was a million dollar view and quite a production! After the visit, we went back to Queenstown where our group went either on the jet boats, golfing or retailing. That night, we ate dinner at the top of Bob’s Peak – a great way to end the trip!

For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845-1542.

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