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A Family Affair

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The mention of a serial entrepreneur who founded a highly successful vodka brand could call to mind images of your typical city slicker


It’s a safe bet that beef will be on the Grays’ Christmas menu. They know more than most how delicious it is guaranteed to be and the hard work it takes to make that happen, right from plate to pasture. Barry and Heather Gray, their son Richard, and his wife Juliet, own 4000-hectare Hakataramea Station in Canterbury. They moved from Southland in 2008 in order to farm together as a family, as their previous properties had been spread over a 15-kilometre distance. Barry and Richard knew they could work smarter on one property, but it had to be the right one. Hakataramea Station was it – Heather knew it on the very first visit. “It was weird but as we drove around I just felt more and more comfortable,” she says.

Now, Barry and Richard work together to farm more than 30,000 stock units including deer, sheep and cattle. Luckily, the father and son team have a great working relationship, one that spans more than 15 years. “Richard and I work really well together,” says Barry. “We both know what each other is doing and we make sure everything is ticking along 100 per cent of the time”. And it helps, Heather adds, that “Barry would consider Richard one of his best mates”. This relationship and experience go some way to explaining how the Grays are able to farm to the highest standard. That and “the minerals on the ground”, says Barry. “We have very, very healthy country up here. It’s very good for animal health”.

We have very, very healthy country up here. It’s very good for animal health.

The Grays are part of the Silver Fern Farms Premier Selection Reserve Beef programme which requires a set of criteria to be met to “make the cut”. The beef is then given an Eating Quality mark that indicates it is of the highest standards for tenderness, juiciness and flavour every time. The beef goes on to be part of the Silver Fern Farms foodservice range, used by top chefs both here and around the globe. Narrowing down what attributes make up this elite product involved an extensive study, carried out over two years, in which more than 95,000 samples of beef were tasted by 13,700 people in New Zealand and the United States. The collaborative study with Silver Fern Farms, Texas Tech University in the US and Otago University in New Zealand was used to determine the factors affecting eating quality. It involves a technical process done by hand by Silver Fern Farms Eating Quality (EQ) accredited master graders, who are re-tested every eight weeks to ensure they’re all grading the meat correctly, as per the study’s findings.

What it means for Barry and Richard is an easier process for them to find the best genetic makeup and the best feed for their stock. Their trusted Silver Fern Farms drafter has been working with the Grays since they moved to the property, and is on hand to provide information that allows the Grays to raise better-tasting beef. For example, they must keep the pH of the animals low, which means ensuring the animals are stress-free. When MiNDFOOD enquires as to how this can be achieved, Richard replies, “Sing them lullabies” – considering the Grays’ dedication, it takes a second to realise he’s joking. They do take measures, though, to keep the animals calm and it shows out in the field where they are curious, rather than nervous, to see us roll up.

If Barry and Richard make a good team out on the farm, Heather and daughter-in-law Juliet make an equally solid one when it comes to cooking. Says Juliet: “We work well together in the kitchen, we always seem to be thrown in there for staff birthdays etc. She knows my kitchen and I know hers”. It’s a sentiment Heather echoes. “I don’t think in all the time we’ve known each other we’ve ever had a cross word.” Last Christmas, the pair cooked up a feast for 20 to 30 family members, with everyone pitching in. Richard’s grandmother supplied freshly dug-up new potatoes. Heather and Barry’s daughter, Nicky, also rolled up her sleeves in the kitchen. “We’re a family of foodies, really,” says Heather.

On the big day, the courtyard was set and Santa (aka Nicky’s husband Matthew) made an appearance. Rumour has it, too, that a few people ended up in the pool – with clothes on. Sport also plays a part in a Gray Christmas – Nicky’s husband is an ex Black Cap and one of Juliet’s brothers is a professional rugby player so games are always on the agenda after feasting. The Gray clan spend every second Christmas together, including Nicky, Heather and Barry’s youngest son, Mathew, who loves coming home to the farm from Wellington each year. Having Juliet and Richard’s children, Benjamin and Sophie, living five minutes away, though, means the grandparents can appreciate family all year long. “I love having the privilege of watching them grow up and being so close to them,” says Heather. Richard knows, too, that they have something special. “It’s great to see the kids running around with the grandparents. Hopefully, it carries on.”