Blairich

Current Owners: Ron & Sue Small

Area (ha): 3170

Ron and Sue Small, in partnership with Allan Hubbard, bought Blairich from Hugh and Denise Cooper in1999. In 2004 the Smalls bought out Allan Hubbard's interests and the partnership was dissolved.

Tenure review has now been completed and the property is now freehold.

In 2009 9000 fine wool Merinos and 750 Angus cross cattle are farmed on the property. The Smalls run a successful Merino stud, selling rams throughout the South Island and overseas. There are 800 stud ewes. They have won several grand champion and supreme awards over recent years at the Christchurch show.

Ron and Sue's son, Tom, returned home to work with them on the farm in February 2009 after several years overseas.

In 1988 Blairich today consisted of 3737ha pastoral lease - owned by H F Cooper Ltd (Hugh F Cooper and his wife Denise M Cooper) since 1980. Previously, until 1978, Blairich consisted of approx 4527ha. In that year, Mr John Cooper and his wife Juliet took over 790ha of the property and called it Black Birch. Blairich was owned from 1954 by the late J Fraser Cooper who purchased it under the Rehabilitation Scheme. Prior to this Mr Cooper had managed it for 18months for the Lands and Survey Department. Before going overseas, Mr Cooper had experience in the high country of South Canterbury. In 1962 the Cooper Family formed a farming company - J F Cooper Ltd.

The height above sea level at the homestead is 152M and highest point on the holding is 1486M. During the last 10 years the rainfall at Blairich has averaged 812MM.

Two flocks were formerly kept - Merino and Halfbred , and South Suffolk and Southdown rams were used for fattening purposes. Blairich Halfbred rams were sold for some years. Today the flock is completely Merino with replacements retained. No wether flock is carried now.

In former years, stud Hereford (both Horned and Polled) and Stud Galloway cattle were bred and shown. Nowadays (from 1980) the stud cattle are all polled Hereford and these continue to be shown with success. For three years deer were fattened. The Coopers have now further diversified into meat goats (about 200).

Considerable further development has been completed on Blairich in recent years - 75% of the holding has now been topdressed and oversown. In the last year or two 202ha of scrub has been cleared buy bulldozer and cutting and spraying by helicopter and so brought into production. Blairich how has approx 50km of internal roading. In 1988 the Coopers are planting 20ha of hardwood trees.

Blairch was first taken up in 1848 by Geo McRae formerly of Blairich, Rogart, Sutherlandshire, Scotland and the Red River settlement, Canada. The McRae family arrived in Nelson in 1842 and shortly after Mr McRae was appointed farm manger for a Captain England. Later the McRaes had grazing rights to land near Lake Rotoiti. In 1848 the eldest son drove the first sheep onto Blairich and built a cob house etc in readiness for the family who settled there about 1850. By the 60s the McRaes were probably the largest runholders in Marlborough but gave up some of their holdings in the 70s when the price of wool declined so much. One of the family, Nehemiah (drowned in the Awatere, 1872) was the first person to climb Mt Tapuaenuku (1864) and the eldest (William) explored a great deal in the early days in the Awatere and further afield. Mr Geo McRae was killed in 1864 while boiling lime and sulphur dip. In 1870 the boiling down station at Blairich (for tallow) put through 16000 sheep for the season - the chimney for this is still standing.

About 1900 the McRaes sold to Chas Goulter and Bernard Ward (part share for a time) - in 1905 it was managed by the latter - later by other members of the Goulter family. In 1947 Blairich was sold by the Goulters to the government who intended developing it for soldier settlements, but eventually decided not to cut it up. 2833ha were set aside as a water catchment area - in 1956, 2970ha were vested in the Awatere County as a Water Reserve.

The old McRae homestead was finished in1859 and the original cob one was burnt down in 1951. A new homestead was built in 1948 - this was extensively remodelled in 1987. In 1976 a transportable home was moved to Blairich and occupied by Mr and Mrs J Fraser Cooper - after Mr J F Cooper's death in 1980 this was sold and moved from the property. A new woolshed was built in 1971 - it has six stands and holds 1100 sheep. About 1974 a new topdressing strip was put in and in a 140 tonne covered bin constructed.

Gillian McLeod