Gently Does It…

Words and Images by Sarah Horrocks – AngusPRO Magazine 2022

Breeding Angus cattle that are well-mannered and quiet in nature has always been a key component for the Johnstone family. Going back to well before EBVs were known, it was temperament that got Ranui on the podium at the Steak of Origin awards so often. And nowadays, with Lin Johnstone still helping out in the yards at 92, it’s more important than ever.

Three generations of Lindsay Johnstones have managed the Ranui stud since it was established in 1950. The most recent being Lindsay and his wife Maria.

The operation runs across two properties in Kai Iwi, just north-west of Whanganui. Rangitatau is a 630ha hill country block that hosts 120 registered Angus cows, 3,000 Wairere-based Romney ewes and 100 18-month Angus trade steers. Karamu is a 550ha block of easier country that hosts 160 registered cows, 2,000 ewes and 150 Hampshire ewes.

Until recently the two blocks were run individually, as Ranui and Ranui W, however from 2022 all calves registered will come under Ranui only. This was party to simplify things after the shift to Angus Australia with the AngusPRO group in mid-2021.

Lindsay says information and scientific progression are seen as powerful tools for the commercial bull buyer, to ensure they can make the best breeding decisions possible.

“Not only has Angus Australia got a more progressive approach to breeding, but we gain exclusive [New Zealand] access to the foot score and angle EBVs. These give our clients the assurance that the bulls they are buying will drop progeny that are sound.”

One of the biggest drivers for the herd is intramuscular fat (IMF), which they’re lifting slowly at Ranui to maintain soundness.

“Processing companies such as Alliance, in partnership with AngusPure, are offering up to $1/kg premiums when grading targets are met. IMF and temperament are a big part of meeting those targets,” Lindsay adds.

For this reason, the Johnstones buy their trade steers back from their own clients, and they pay a premium for them.

“They’re settled, they grow out better, they finish faster and at the end of the day they’re a better product on the hook.”

Like their clients, the herd at Ranui is run in a commercial farming environment. Cows spend their winters in the steep hill country cleaning up pastures for the sheep, and after being born behind a wire and tagged/weighed, the stud calves are shed out into the hills to find their feet. It’s about survivability, Lindsay says.

“We often come into discussions with people about the importance of looking into the farming conditions of your stud bulls. Are they pushed and tested in a commercial environment? Because they need to be.”

Ranui sell 30 bulls as yearlings and 40 as R2s annually, all at their two on-farm sales. These are the product of both AI (Australia, USA and New Zealand) and NZ-bred herd sires.

An innovative approach is also being used to get a faster genetic gain within the herd. Thirty Dairy X recipient cows are currently carrying high performance embryos from the top three Ranui stud cows.

“The recip calves will improve our own herd faster with female replacements and provide more top-quality bulls to sell to our clients. We also see it as a more ethical solution for a waste product of the dairy industry,” Lindsay says.

Ranui use their own yearling bulls over their heifers (as well as AI) and value the importance of heifer mating. Once used, those yearling bulls are sold as R2s at the sale in June.

Surplus heifers are not put to the bull, but instead sold at the yearling bull sale, where they are all up to mating weight. This adds a coveted second dimension to the sale.

Lindsay is adamant he’s throwing everything he can at the program to ensure he’s breeding the best product possible. This has meant busy times for both blocks and the staff. Rangitatau has a block manager plus one young fella and Karamu has a manager, a general hand and Lindsay, who keeps a close eye on the stud especially.

Having (supposedly) more time on his hands has allowed Lindsay to get out on the road and visit some of his clients in recent times.

“Their programs largely dictate ours, so it’s important that we’re breeding the bulls they want and need.”

The moderate-framed Ranui cow size is appealing to the hill country farmers, as well as their 200 Day Growth and 400 Day Weight EBVs.

Maria runs the back end of the farming operation, spending her evenings at the computer doing all the registry and data input for the stud.

“The administration shift to Angus Australia has made my life easier to no end,” she says. “From the speed of the animal search software, right through to having their office open for those extra few hours in the evening after New Zealand shuts its doors for the day. As I look at all the numbers and information coming through, it’s exciting to see all the research and development work they’re constantly undertaking.”

The children are involved too, of course, with Lindsay Jnr (16) lined up to be the fourth Lindsay Johnstone running Ranui. Sister Jess (18) plans to be right there at his side though, having a keen interest in the stud and planning to come home to the farm at some stage in the future.

Tradition, innovation and hard work – the key ingredients for success at Ranui.