Kiwi-Made: King Cattle Equipment

By: Vivienne Haldane, Photography by: Vivienne Haldane


Farm Trader speaks to a New Zealand business that has stood the test of time for 50 years with its range of animal handling equipment

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Cleve Hepburn in his workshop

When New Zealand became isolated from the rest of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it forced us to look inwards to see what we do best. We asked collectively, ‘What are our strengths? How can we survive in a world that has suddenly tipped upside down?’

Fortunately, New Zealanders are well known for their ingenuity and the ability to work their way out of a problem. It’s fair to say, Kiwi ingenuity is a national trait. By supporting and encouraging homegrown products, we’re building resilience and almost harking back to a time when buying New Zealand-made was the norm.

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The portable Mig welder and a two bale feeder under construction

Built to last

King Cattle Equipment in Waipawa is a small business that prides itself on producing a high-quality product. Cleve Hepburn bought King Cattle Equipment 13 years ago as a secondary business.

It was founded by Eric King 50 years ago in Ashurst and had a well-established reputation.

"Some of King Equipment has lasted more than 40 years," says Cleve. "I’ve had farmers arrive with gear that’s 50 years old, and they tell me, ‘No, I don’t want a new one; it’s still functional. I just want you to replace the pins in the bottom.’

"That’s the only downfall of the business; everything has been so well built that it lasts forever," he jokes.  

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Round bale feeders ready for galvanising and cattle crushes ready for dispatch

Engineering background

As an engineer, Cleve has been easily able to use his skills to build animal handling equipment. He’s a mechanical services engineer who works primarily in the heating ventilation and air conditioning industry. His business, Pipework Services, has taken him all over New Zealand and to parts of Australia.

"I bought Kings as a secondary business for when I wasn’t working on site. As I got older, I decided to back off a bit from my mechanical services work."

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A well-stocked workbench. An arc welder is on the left.

In 2020, Cleve and his partner, Glynis, relocated from Ashurst to Waipawa, building a brand-new workshop and house on the outskirts of town. Cleve says the move has worked out well, but last year was a challenge, as they were caught between two places while in lockdown.

"We got stuck and, as a result, became isolated. I wasn’t able to continue the business for a while."

Innovation and forward-thinking

Since buying the business, Cleve has developed different products, such as a deer feeder with a base and a lid. The reason for doing so, he says, is "deer are so slow at eating their food. Farmers found the bales were getting wet. This keeps them dry. Besides this, without a lid, a deer will leap up and stand on top of the bale; thus, they sometimes fall and can’t get out."

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Half round bale feeder

Cleve enjoys making these one-off products for farmers and says, "We can make things that farmers decide they want because being a small company, it suits our application.

"The cost involved in one-off construction is not so profitable, however, our customers keep coming back, so they must be satisfied."

All King Equipment is constructed with hot-dipped galvanised pipe for lasting value.

Among the line-up of gear is a mini seed drill with independent discs that Cleve built. Designed to be towed by a quad bike and used on lifestyle blocks, he actually built it for his own lifestyle block, as he used to have racehorses.

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Drill presses used for metal drilling

"With small paddocks, I could never get a big tractor in to do re-grassing. I thought there has to be a better way; so being an engineer, I scaled it down in size.

"I enjoy that challenge. We do many one-offs for people, or if they need some gear fixed or changed, we can do it. That’s the challenge of engineering, and it’s what I enjoy."

Change of location

Cleve is happy with moving to a new district and says he and Glynis have found Central Hawke’s Bay to be a friendly and supportive community and have already enjoyed getting to know the locals.

"They are quick to lend a hand," he says.

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A vintage pipe cutter that Cleve still uses daily

He has noticed a difference in climate and the way it affects what customer’s need.

"The weather is drier in Hawke’s Bay compared to Manawatu, and consequently, hay feeders move quicker there than they do here. For example, it’s autumn and the farmers are still waiting for the grass to grow."

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This hydraulic press has done good service and is still going strong

Unique products

Cleve’s ability to build almost anything means he can output holding pens, horse stud gates (he makes wooden gates too), racehorse starting gates, equine jump-out gates, sheep yards, goat feeders, and sheep roll-over units.

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Cleve in front of his Totalspan workshop bought as a kitset and self-assembled

Being innovative is what it’s all about and brings us back again to that basic premise: New Zealanders are innovators and develop excellent solutions to deal with their environment, whether they live in a rural or an urban area. Let’s pat ourselves on the back and feel confident the future will be rosy despite significant setbacks. It’s people like Cleve who are building sound New Zealand-made products that are instrumental to this end.

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