Roger Dunn's become a bit of an evangelist when it comes to native tree planting, animal welfare and pest control. He has 27 years of lifestyle block experience to share.

He’s been on his 11 hectares near Warkworth for 27 years. He lives there with his wife Robyn, their Jack Russell terrier Minnie, and cat Bella.

The recently retired veterinarian fattens heifers on his property buying them as yearlings and then selling them a year later when they’re ready for the meat works. “We really enjoy them and run them on the principle that life always ends the same way, and you have one bad day at the end of it. It’s our job to make sure those heifers have a happy time while they’re with us.”

Roger says that means shade and water in every paddock and plenty of feed. “This is something I would encourage all lifestylers to do in terms of animal welfare.”

He also encourages a conservative approach to stocking rates and says recommended rates per hectare will be for regularly fertilised pastureland run by a skilled farmer, with access to strip grazing and supplements like hay and silage.

“This is unlikely to be your situation as a new lifestyler and you’re best to run a few less stock to reduce work and stress, and to have better animal welfare and health.”

The COVID-19 lockdown has created some issues for Roger with the saleyards closed. He had a buy order with the local stock agent for some time and the spring grass growth was accelerating away, but thankfully he now has some happy heifers on his block.

“Our stock agent came through with 17 lovely quiet yearling heifers from the Wellsford sale. We’ve been busy tidying up a few fence and water trough issues for them.”

Roger made good use of the time while waiting for his stock to arrive. He finished a native tree planting program getting over 1000 in the ground for the season. “We’re working on expanding our wetland areas with emphasis on regenerating native plants.”

He’s keen to create a more sustainable environment – planting in areas fenced off from grazing. People think livestock prefer grass to eat but they love a varied diet and will seek out your recent plantings. It is amazing how far they will stretch a fence to reach them! It can be a real heartbreaker. Make sure you securely fence first, then plant. An electric outrigger can help and don’t plant within a metre of the fence.”

Roger’s also installed trap lines and poison stations. “We’re controlling rats, possums, hedgehogs, feral cats and the very occasional mustelid. Since we’ve been on this mission, we’ve seen an amazing number of native birds come back and that’s been very rewarding.”

He says he’s become a bit of an evangelist. “I would encourage other lifestylers to do the same and help us get to a pest free New Zealand.”

Roger says living on a lifestyle block is not without its challenges, with number one being the amount of work involved. “I retired two months ago and now I’ve got plenty of time. It’s sort of an unlimited project really there’s no limit to what you can throw into it.”

He says having a little farm means work but it’s also good for his wellbeing. “I’m outdoors doing essentially manual labour and I find that’s good for me physically and mentally rather than being indoors in an office.”

Roger’s also been a member of the mutual for 27 years which is important for his piece of mind. “A few years back we had a power surge that fried all our appliances and our electric fence unit, and we had a car broken into while we were out of town. It’s good to know FMG’s got things covered.”