For the Zino family, subterranean clover is their competitive advantage.
It is this plant, that thrives on their farm’s silt loamy soils, that is the engine room of their business, driving lactation and lamb growth rates in that critical early spring period.
Mark Zino, who farms in partnership with his brother Sam and their respective families, is based on Flaxmere, a 983ha property near Hawarden in North Canterbury.
Despite the challenging environment (summers can get extremely hot and dry) the family has built a reputation for producing consistently top-quality stock and they credit legumes, particularly subterranean (sub) clover, for their ability to grow lambs quickly and meet the quality specifications of their premium lamb supply contracts.
Genetics and the management of their 3,250 Longdown crossbred ewes also play an important role, but it was learning to utilise the sub clover that is endemic in their pasture that proved to be a game-changer for the family.
Mark says they always knew the sub clover was there, but they had been overgrazing it so the plant never had the opportunity to show its true potential.
Nearly 20 years ago they identified how best to manage and use sub clover and now, with the correct management, they are able to wean lambs averaging 36-38kg with around 70% gone before or at weaning.
These lambs, which kill out at an average 19kg CW, are growing at 310-330gms/day between birth and weaning and it is sub clover driving these impressive growth rates.
While the plant is endemic in the ground, Mark uses complementary sub clover varieties, provided by Luisetti Seeds, as the basis of his pasture mixes.
He does this to get a good spread of flowering dates and to ensure the massive seed bank in their soil continues to be replenished. Depending on the season, they are getting 40-80kg/ha of clover every year just through natural re-seeding.
The sub clover varieties he is sowing in his pasture mixes include Denmark, Woogenellup and Antas because they suit the Zino’s soil type and climate.
“Denmark and Woogenellup are my favourite sub clovers due to their burring ability and spread of flowering dates and we need that burring ability in our stony silt loam soils.”
Antas is a prolific producer and Mark says a mix of Denmark, Antas and Woogenellup gives a range of leaf size and grazing heights.
Lucerne and red clover are also an essential part of their farm system, particularly over late spring and summer.
Mark says ryegrass-based pastures simply cook in the extreme summer heat experienced on Flaxmere, so they use grazing bromes and cocksfoot as grass species on their unirrigated land.
But it is the legumes that are drivers of the family’s sheep, beef and deer business, which is geared towards maximising spring and early summer production.
We do what we do here because it suits our farm. “It is light ground, so it starts early and finishes early and we are mindful of that.”