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Warwick Saleyards an ideal holiday

INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE: New Zealanders producers Stuart and Diane Mackenzie called in to see how Australian saleyards worked during a recent visit to Warwick.
INTERNATIONAL EXPERIENCE: New Zealanders producers Stuart and Diane Mackenzie called in to see how Australian saleyards worked during a recent visit to Warwick. Toni Somes

WHEN you travel more than 2290km "across the ditch" to celebrate your 60th birthday on a walkway above the Warwick Saleyards on a 38 degree day you deserve some recognition.

But New Zealander Diane Mackenzie was more interested in a cool change than attention.

The good-natured traveller was in Australia with her husband, Stuart, on a trip to celebrate her milestone birthday, an event that may have been slightly hijacked by an agricultural agenda.

She admitted while she could convince her husband to take an overseas holiday, he remained a beef cattle and prime lamb producer regardless of location.

So spending her actual birthday checking out Warwick's version of the saleyards cattle selling system didn't come as a total shock.

"I was less prepared for the heat though," Mrs Mackenzie said.

"The temperature in summer at home is usually in the high-20s, never 30 degrees, so we are feeling it."

The Mackenzies come from King Country in the western reaches of New Zealand's North Island.

At home they have 2025ha of quality pasture and forest country with a carrying capacity of 10,000 stock units.

At the moment they are running 7000 Romney cross sheep and 600 head of Angus cross cattle in what they refer to as an "excellent season".

"It is very green and we have plenty of grass," Mr Mackenzie said.

"We just finished making 600 round bales - of baled pasture - from about 70ac.

"Once you finish baling, the stubble left is perfect for finishing lambs."

The couple aim to produce lambs with an average carcass weight just over 20kg and rely on getting $5.40/kg dressed. "We like to net about $120 a head for our lambs," Mr Mackenzie said.

Testament to their pasture quality is their ability to finish cattle with a carcass weight of 300kg plus straight off pasture.

"There are very few feedlots in New Zealand, because of the pasture country's ability to finish cattle so well," Mr Mackenzie said.

"We sell our cattle direct to processors generally and we expect to get $5.20-$5.40c/kg carcass weight.

"In net terms that equates to around $1600 a head."

Media reports about the drought in Queensland had prepared the couple to some extent for the transition from New Zealand's green paddocks to the parched south- east.

"We knew it would be dry and hot, but it is still confronting to see," Mrs Mackenzie said.

"We do feel for those people, who are even more badly affected in other parts of Australia."

It is difficult to compare land prices between countries, but the couple say in their part of the world there is a significant value on high calibre pasture country.

"For example we have a 300ha grazing block that would be worth $2.6 million if we were to sell," Mr Mackenzie said.

"But our forest or bush country would be worthless."

Despite the dust and being here for the second heat wave of January, the couple were impressed by the streamlined system in operation at Warwick cattle sale.

"It seems very efficient," Mr Mackenzie said. "We sell very few animals through the saleyards at home.

"Our finished cattle and prime lambs go direct to processors, but we do sell things like older ewes through the yards."

Yet he laughed when asked about plans to celebrate his wife's special day.

"As tourists we don't want to see skyscrapers or those sorts of things; we've travelled a lot and worked overseas before coming home to New Zealand.

"Travelling and seeing how things work in different countries gives you some perspective when it comes to your own country and your own operation. And we are just across the ditch from here, it's not far and it's been a really interesting trip."

Topics:  cattle livestock warwick saleyards