The mention of a serial entrepreneur who founded a highly successful vodka brand could call to mind images of your typical city slicker
The Gaddum family story of hard work and determination has carried through generations, resulting today in the finest natural pasture-raised Silver Fern Farms venison in the country.
Ben Gaddum is a passionate and hardworking family man. A man who, as he sits on the creased leather lounge suite in his home – the historic Arapata Homestead in Hawke’s Bay – often cracks under the weight of emotion as he tells his family story. Farming runs in the veins of the Gaddum family and their successful pasture-raised deer farming venture, Tuapae Farms, in the hills near Kereru in Hawke’s Bay, is testament to decades of hard work, starting with back-breaking clearing by Ben’s father, Dick. If not for Dick Gaddum, who camped in a tent for three years to break in Rangimoe Farm – one of the properties that make up the modern-day Tuapae Farms – the country could be without one of the most successful and long-lasting venison operations supplying Silver Fern Farms.
Tuapae Farms is a series of properties that hold more than 5000 eastern red deer, 800 cattle and 950 ewes. Here, deer roam free (albeit within deer fences) in big paddocks over rolling hills and rocky outcrops, flat lands and high lands – with the highest point more than 760 metres high.
Trio of Expertise
Tuapae Farms is managed by a team of three – Ben Gaddum, his son Rupert (known as Ru) and manager Hugh McArdle. Also, important parts of the well-oiled machine are Ben’s wife, Raewyn Gaddum – who runs the successful Arapata Lodge on their Havelock North property – Ru’s partner Kate Ormrod, and the rest of the family including younger son Harry and fiancée Emily Naylor, daughter Benita and her husband, Tom, youngest son George and Raewyn's daughter Zsa Zsa.
The family is passionate about producing consistent quality venison for Silver Fern Farms to meet an increasing consumer desire for lighter, more delicate tasting red meat. “I always loved deer,” Ben says. “I had a dream of sharing our venison. We know what a great product we have and Silver Fern Farms allows us to share it with others.
Everything we do on the farm when it comes to crops and growing the animals is with the consumer in mind.
Ben knows those who eat his venison love the mild, fresh, delicate flavour and consistency that comes from the deer being pasture-raised. The resulting product could not be more different to gamey wild venison. New Zealand pasture-raised venison from Silver Fern Farms has been a revelation to not just the New Zealand market but also globally. The European and American markets have cottoned on to the fact our lush green grass produces venison with a distinctive difference. Top chefs have embraced Silver Fern Farms Venison for its delicate flavour and versatility which brings a modern edge to their menus all year round. Not only popular with chefs and restaurants – consumer demand is high in the US too, with Silver Fern Farms cuts sold to consumers online – pasture-raised venison’s popularity looks set to soar.
The natural vitality of the animals results in a product with a distinctive freshness, and is also supremely healthy – it is the healthiest choice in red meat and the Silver Fern Farms venison range carries the Heart Foundation two ticks. More and more consumers, in New Zealand and around the world, are now cooking venison at home and Ben and Rae encourage others to try the easy-to-cook meat, especially as they know first-hand its premium provenance.
These optimum conditions are the result of a family history that speaks of the kind of passion and drive needed to be the best in the business. Ben’s parents, Dick and Ann Gaddum came from Mohaka, in the northern Hawke’s Bay, and Ruatoria, on the East Coast respectively. “My father had a really tough upbringing. He had nothing. He went off to the war early and when he came back he had his pension from the war.” Dick was taken under the wing of family friend Percy Burbury, who oversaw Kereru Station. The story goes that one day Percy looked over and saw a patch of farm completely covered in scrub and said, “If you want a chance in life, Dick, there it is.” That “patch of scrub” was to become Rangimoe Farm, but not without considerable sacrifice.
“It had gone to scrub and was infested with rabbits so they had written it off and given it to forestry,” Ben says. “Dick went and saw the Ministry of Agriculture at the time and asked if he could have a crack at it. They gave him three years, lease-free, to go there and see if he could make anything of it. “He rode in on his horse and put a tent up and camped there for three years from the age of 23. His father arrived with a case of gin and said, ‘when that’s finished I'm out of here'. Then he was pretty much left to it.
Eventually, he made a real success of it and the family grew up there.” Dick and Ann Gaddum had three children – Ben and his siblings Richard and Margo. By the time Dick died, in 1994, he owned seven farms, including the property that included Arapata Homestead, which he bought in 1970. It came with 400 acres and this “big old house,” Ben says of the homestead. Ben got into farming straight after school at Wanganui Collegiate. He was married at 23 to Kirsty – the pair had 10 months overseas before buying a property next to Rangimoe – Tuapae Farm. The couple’s four children – Benita, Ru, Harry and George – were born and raised at Tuapae. Kirsty sadly died just after the family had moved from the Tuapae homestead into Arapata.
Deer farming wasn’t Ben’s first option, but it has become his most treasured. “I tried farming everything from bulls to merinos to goats, everything.” But for Ben, and Silver Fern Farms, the winning move would be introducing pasture-raised deer to the property in 1986. He managed to put in 100 acres of deer fence across the lush pastures and brought in yearling stags. Now across the grass-filled properties, there are about 2000 acres of deer fences.
That means allowing these free-spirited and agile animals to thrive in the conditions at Tuapae with a natural vitality. “The deer really suit this land. We get cold winters and a lot of snow. Deer naturally go through winters easily. “We have put a lot of kale crops in and they get through the winter on those. "We get through the seasons up there so much easier with deer [than sheep or beef]. Deer are very kind to the pasture and the country. They graze like a lawnmower. They don’t eat out patches.”
The deer are run in an operation that closely mirrors their natural environment. “We don’t get them in that often. You only see them three or four times a year,” Ben says. “Deer are different. If a deer gets out of the fence, unless it’s going to come home on its own accord you are not going to get it home, not like a sheep or cattle farm. People can get impatient with them, but if you know how to work them, they are easy. You have to get into their heads and think the way they do. They can’t just be driven or made to do something. You have to encourage them to do it. Often that means just leaving the gate open and walking away. “We have been trying to breed animals with a really nice temperament. We never have an animal that is aggressive.” This philosophy is what sees a consistent product delivered to Silver Fern Farms and to consumers.
Ru came back to the farm in 2008 and had been living at the property at Tuapae before moving to Rangimoe with Kate this year. Ru says the opportunity to farm his grandfather’s property is one he could not turn down. “It’s so nice to be there. There’s so much scope and potential for development. For me, it’s our life. It’s hugely important. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Ben says his father was his mentor and inspiration and continues to be so to Ru and the family. “He worked really hard all his life. I so appreciate what he did for us. Coming from nothing he created so much and created a legacy of that land that is so important to me. It is so important to me that it stays in the family.”