Farm feature: Palliser Ridge


Palliser Ridge has taken the diversification of its farm business to the next level, achieving high-level accreditations and a reputation for quality in all that it does

From setting impressive standards for traceable Land to Market verified products to opening its farm gates to share the team’s passion and pride in the farm and businesses, Palliser Ridge has taken the diversification of its farm business to the next level, achieving high-level accreditations and a reputation for quality in all that it does.

The property is not only a highly productive sheep and beef farm but also houses world-class accommodation and produces premium-quality, traceable meat and wool products — all under a certified regenerative system.

Palliser Ridge, located on 1200 hectares at Featherston in South Wairarapa, has been owned by Jim and Marilyn Law for the past 30 years.

Palliser Ridge dedicates enormous effort to the credibility and traceability of its sheep products

For the past 16 years, Kurt and Lisa Portas have been at the coalface of Palliser Ridge, working collaboratively with the Law family to ensure the business thrives for many years to come.

Kurt came on board as the property’s stock manager in 2008, having completed a cadetship at Smedley Station before shepherding in Gore.

At that time, Lisa had been working across the Wellington region in retail management. She commuted for a while before basing herself in Wairarapa, and the couple started a family in 2013. Kurt and Lisa entered into an equity partnership with the Laws in 2013, which coincided with the purchase of a contiguous block of land to the main farm.

The working farm

Palliser Ridge is home to 13,000 stock units, including 1200 Angus cross cattle and 7000 Romney sheep. As Palliser Ridge is located in a geographical location that experiences dry summers and wet winters, a hardy breed of sheep that can thrive in both wet and dry conditions is required.

“The climate is a challenge, and we do our best to work with it, rather than try and beat it,” Kurt says.

“We’ve found Romney fit the bill for this. It’s a dual-purpose breed, producing quality lambs, and the fibre from the first lamb shear is well-suited for taking through to finished products.”

Problem-solving and the ability to overview the business are in the DNA of the family farm

The ewes are bred to Wairere sheep genetics. Lambing starts mid-September and Kurt sells forward store lambs at 35kg to Atkins Ranch and Silver Fern Farm suppliers throughout the season.

One thousand two-tooths are sold as capital stock, and 1000 are kept as breeding stock.

When it comes to meat, Palliser Ridge makes the most of the fertile and abundant farm property.

The lambs are born in Pirinoa and reared on the hills overlooking Palliser Bay, where they feed on grass and herb forages until they are hand-selected to go to Cabernet Foods Wairarapa for processing.

Cabernet, an MPI-accredited and family-owned local business, helps Palliser maintain the credibility and traceability of its lamb product.

On a smaller scale, Palliser Ridge has used its industry partnerships to bring lamb to locals in the Wairarapa and Wellington through a supply contract with Gavin Green at Greytown Butchery.

“What started as a casual chat soon turned into eventing together, educating consumers on the welfare standards on farm and working together to promote both businesses,” Lisa says.

Greytown Butchery provides this premium lamb to both their walk-in customers and to a number of food establishments who choose to cook with Palliser’s prime product.


“It’s not a large portion of our meat business by any means, but it’s a great example of a local collaborative partnership,” Lisa says.

Diversification in action

Lisa says not long after their shareholding began with the Law family (Jim and Marilyn, their grown children, and spouses), a discussion took place on what opportunities lay ahead.

“We looked at the skills at the table, the existing asset, and the desire to branch out into other revenue streams, and capture more value than at commodity level,” she says.

At the time the conversation happened, the strong wool price was already not covering the price of shearing.

“It became a logical focus point. The idea of creating a product, under a brand, with a strong traceable story felt like a good place to start,” Lisa says. “And it was a good utilisation of my skills from a previous life.”

Lisa says it was here that her role in the farm business expanded.

“My employment with the business began on a very small scale, growing in the last seven years to lead the diversification side of the business,” she says.

Similarly to its premium, traceable lamb products, Palliser Ridge aims to sell its fibre in a traceable way directly to customers, manufacturers, and businesses, following the entire process to ensure they’re proud of the end products created.

Home-grown wool is at the heart of the Palliser Ridge history

Palliser Ridge shears 6000 ewes twice a year, in February and August, and 9000 lambs once a year in February. The first lamb shear takes place when the lambs are five months old.

This equates to roughly 40,000kg of wool coming off the flock annually.

The wool that’s taken off the lambs is 29 microns, indicative that it’s suited to products such as clothing (jerseys, socks, and scarves) as well as insulation and carpet.

Partnerships with fellow New Zealand businesses such as New Zealand Natural Clothing and Inter-Weave have allowed for larger-scale production of both fashion and home-based wool products.

Palliser Ridge produces a variety of lamb’s wool products, including a range of luxury blankets in three different styles and a range of colours.

After the lamb’s wool is shorn on farm by Wairarapa Shearing and scoured in Hawke’s Bay, it becomes a thin weaving yarn at Woolyarns in Wellington.

Each luxury lambs’ wool blanket arrives in a box with a QR code showing the entire wool process from farm to yarn

The wool then heads to Inter-Weave in Auckland where the blankets are manufactured.

Taking traceability to the next level, each blanket features a care label detailing which year’s main shear it came from. A QR code printed on each box showcases the entire wool process from farm to yarn.

Palliser Ridge also produces scarves and beanies made from Romney lamb’s wool and has a Raw Wool collection, an eight-ply wool available in 100g balls and 1.15kg cones.

Products can be purchased from the on-farm Woolshed Store throughout the week and online through the Palliser Ridge website.

Lisa says they’ve been proud of how their wool category has performed.

“Our ability to work with key New Zealand wool businesses every step of production is something that customers have really appreciated,” she says. “New Zealand-grown, New Zealand wool, New Zealand-made… it’s just such a good story. It’s not a new one, but it’s one that needs to have its day again, for sure.”

Retreat to the country

Another aspect of diversification for Palliser Ridge is the Palliser Ridge Retreat, formerly the Kaikoura Lookout, which has been open for bookings for six years.

On-farm accommodation includes a cosy cabin set among native plantings

The off-the-grid cabin, built for two, is the perfect place to switch off and escape reality. The rough-sawn macrocarpa hut has gas and solar power, a log burner for cooler days and cosy evenings, and a Kiwi hot tub built into the hillside.

The location was planted out as a wetland more than 20 years ago by Jim Law, but with exceptional views of the South Island and Cook Strait, it was something that needed to be shared, Lisa says.

“Agri-tourism is a great part of our diversification,” she says. “I think once we understood how much our lifestyle and place in the world differs from our urban counterparts, we could see a real opportunity to be that special place that people return to time and time again.

“The Wairarapa Dark Sky Reserve has also been a huge drawcard, with many guests bringing their cameras and making the most of seeing the night sky in such a clear form.”

Talking regeneration

Kurt says there has always been a strong focus on continual improvement at Palliser Ridge, particularly in the environmental space.

Palliser Ridge was the Ballance Farm Environment Awards Supreme Winner for the Greater Wellington region in 2019.
“The vision and mission that were created as Palliser Ridge began still stands today, and still guides our decision-making,” Kurt says.

Soak in the views from the Kiwi Tub at Palliser Ridge Retreat

“There wasn’t a clear decision to move into the regenerative space, but through different trials and observing our land throughout the seasons, the regenerative principles were much aligned with our stock and land management practices.”
More recently, Palliser Ridge has wrapped official accreditations around its regenerative position.

In November 2021, it achieved Land to Market verification, achieved by undertaking an audit involving soil and environmental monitoring. A range of tests are repeated annually to ensure that, among other things, the biodiversity in the soil is improving.

“(Achieving accreditation) was a great milestone for our business,” Kurt says. “But the first year’s testing that provided the hard data describing our improvements was probably more of a highlight. For me, it added science and reason to a few of the gut feelings I had had over the years.”

Land to Market is the world’s first outcome-based verified regenerative sourcing solution. The Land to Market verification seal on products in the marketplace indicates that the product has come from land that’s verified as regenerating.

“Leaving the land better than we found it has always been a strong theme at Palliser Ridge,” Kurt says. “It’s important to all of us, from our directors to management to our team members. We all want to be proud of our time here as caretakers on the land.”

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