At the head of Lake Wakatipu near Glenorchy lies Rees Valley, a high county merino station that has been farmed by the Scott Family since 1905. We caught up with Kate Scott, the great-granddaughter of Henry and Kate Scott, the first generation of Scotts at Rees Valley, and learned more about their history, what a typical year looks like on the farm, and their regenerative future.
When the property was originally acquired in 1905 it also included what is now known as Temple
Peak. Unfortunately, after Henry passed away from Tuberculosis in 1918 the scale of the property was too much for his wife to run alongside raising her children in relative isolation. Accordingly, her late husband's brother took over Temple Peak and the majority of Rees Valley Station was sold to a separate buyer while the Scotts retained the freehold flats and leased them to the new owners.
After 10 years, during which time rabbits were
rife and the Great Depression in force, the purchasers were unable to complete payment for the land and so offered Rees Valley pastoral lease back to the Scotts. By this stage Kate’s grandfather, Doug was working on a farm in Saint Bathans but was called back via telegraph to run the family farm so jumped on his horse and rode home.
Sadly, tragedy struck the family again when Kate's father Graeme passed away while she was in school. Her mum Iris decided to keep the farm running until the children were old enough to decide if they wanted to farm on not. Her mum's decision gave Kate the freedom to leave home and complete an English and Art History degree before returning to the farm.
Although people comment that she does not use her degree, Kate would not take back her time at Otago for anything. She believes the point of tertiary education is to teach you how to learn and search for information and learn how to articulate your thoughts and ideas; “A degree helps you in ways you cannot anticipate”
Kate often imagines how daunting it must have been for her great-grandmother not having a lot of practical hands-on experience and being so reliant on someone else. Her great grandmother Kate was extremely intelligent though; she was the dux of Otago Girls in 1893 when the women got the vote. There was an expectation of her and her graduating class to not waste this new opportunity. Her independence and determination have meant Rees Valley is still farmed by the same family four generations later. This determination and resilience are traits seen passed down through the Scott women, as they have continued to be true guardians of the land.
The property has extremely high rainfall. Even though most of the property is high and steep, they have significant summer grazing but are constrained in winter (as two-thirds of the property is under snow) as to how many stock units they can run to ensure they can feed them.
Spring is the beginning of the farm year, for them this tends to be reasonably late, and they don’t tend to lamb until mid-October to ensure that enough grass has grown.
Shearing is divided up, so they shear all the ewes pre lamb in early September then focus on the rest of the flock in October. Doing half the flock at a time allows them to accommodate any weather issues and provide enough shelter for all.
Tailing is done in December when they host vet students. In January the wethers are put out on the hill block (the property is subdivided by natural boundaries like tributary creeks and each ridgeline between the creeks is a block). Some mid-altitude fencing is used but other blocks do run from the valley floor up to 8000ft.
During late January and early February, the ewes go out to the hills and the lambs come back to the flats around the house “to be fussed over for the first few months of their lives”.
The autumn muster is the big feature of most high-country farms; bringing the flock back in from the high country to below the snow line. This is a wonderful time for them to do some crutching and give the flock supplements of minerals (due to the geologically young landscape, they do not have a lot of trace elements in the soil so use oral supplements).
During winter the wethers have the run of a hill block which is not grazed during summer. Grazing only starts once there is decent snow covering as the snow line is a natural barrier that stops them from going up too high and getting stuck. At the same time, the ewes are grazing in the lower fenced paddocks that have been top dressed and deliver a high-quality feed environment.
Between all of this, they also farm cattle within the station boundary.
The Scotts have seen a lot of change over the last century and are excited to embark on their Regenerative journey. They see it as a more open-minded, conscious farming; Kate explains, “There are often vested interests, and everyone has an opinion on things, so it is good to take a step back and ask ourselves does this actually work for the environment and are the stock actually benefiting from it.”
By being non-prescriptive, ZQRX allows Growers to figure out what works best for their land and stock because every farm is different.
There are lots of native bush areas, large sections of beech forest, and mid-altitude scrublands that are important for biodiversity. A lot of the areas of forest are pre-European, the Scotts are excited to see the regeneration around the forest margins and trees expanding their territory.
The property also has a lot of shrub-land and a variety of plants like mountain Totora trees and celery pines that flourish in the high rainfall and microclimates. About 90% of the property has natives on it, but the areas lower down and closer to human habitation have seen the introduction of Douglas fir and garden escape plants and the Scotts have plans in place to keep these areas corralled.
Rees Valley’s water quality is kept at a high level due to the amount of vegetation cover and this is regularly monitored and confirmed by council testing.
The Scott's history and their current commitments mean they will be able to maintain Rees Valley for many future generations to come.