Farming Friends of Hospice Whanganui has become a major player in the fundraising stakes for the charitable organisation since launching in 2005 with a paltry $100 kitty.
The foundations were laid in 2005 to build on an idea to help ongoing funding for Hospice Wanganui by the rural sector. The idea came from retired Waverley stockman Eric Weir after his wife Diana was diagnosed with cancer.
The Farming Friends of Hospice Wanganui (FFHW) Charitable Trust was formed to administer a stock grazing scheme designed to raise funds for the organisation that cares for terminally ill patients.
Weir was elected chairman and the trustees include Tony Matthews, Robert Alward, Ian Hadfield and the late Ian Strachan. Bob Barrell of Taihape and Marty Walshe from Hunterville were also been co-opted to help out, while Fred Westby acted as treasurer for the best part of a decade.
The aim was to entice farmers and rural residents within the Whanganui District Health Board catchment to donate stock to be grazed. Once sold, the monies from the stock were invested and the revenue generated used to fund hospice operations.
Weir said the scheme had been going in the Waverley district for some time through the Waverley Lions Club but then was the ideal opportunity to build on that throughout the health board district. Ruapehu Lions Club was also an early contributor.
The options for contributors included grazing cattle, donating cattle, donating sheep or offering cash donations.
During its inaugural annual meeting in 2006, re-elected chairman Eric Weir told members that net assets stood at $82,162.14 - not bad from just the $100 initial outlay.
The assets were mainly on the hoof in the form of 117 cattle either donated or bought from turnover generated from previously donated beasts.
"It is with feelings of pride and humility that I present the first annual report of the Farming Friends of Hospice Wanganui Charitable Trust (FFHW)," Weir said at the time.
"Pride, firstly in the way in which the farming community and the Lions clubs of Whanganui's districts have supported this project. In particular, the way in which the Waverley and Ruapehu Lions clubs have instigated the calf rearing and fattening project."
The project began in 2005 when Weir arranged for 60 young calves from farmers in the Waverley and Ruapehu districts to be grazed out free of charge on other farmers' land.
"I stand with gratitude and humility to thank the many donors of cash, time, sheep and lambs, cattle, pastures and other goods. The returns from these have enabled us to buy some older cattle to cut down the fattening time and speed up throughput," Weir said.
An $18,000 grant from the then Powerco Trust was also crucial to the immediate success of the project.
"The foresight (of the trustees) has enabled the hill country farmer to contribute to the over all progress of the trust. There's a lot of competition now between contributing farmers to see who can donate the best-performing cattle and that's been great for us.
"We started from nothing and our aim now is to keep the momentum flowing without putting pressure on individuals," Weir said.
The assets at that early stage did not flow into the Hospice coffers, but were be used to build the FFHW herd so that in the future proceeds can be given to Hospice while still leaving enough to reinvest in cattle to be fattened.
There are more than 250 beef cattle out grazing on Whanganui region farms that will eventually be sold, with profits going to Hospice Whanganui.
Farming Friends of Hospice (FFHW) have been contributing $5000 a month ($60,000 a year) to the hospice since the group started, its chairman Brian Doughty said.
He's just spent $65,000 on a unit load (truck and trailer) of 50 cattle, to add to the total.
The animals are rising 2-year-old steers, and each participating farm will get two.
The cattle have blue hospice eartags to mark them out from the herd.
When they are sold to meatworks, it will be under a different name, and Farming Friends of Hospice will get $500 to $600 for each beast - they try for a margin of $400-$600.
FFHW then passes the money on to hospice.
"Every now and then, when we have a surplus, we buy them a vehicle for them to do out-visits - a car or a van," Doughty said.
Hospice Whanganui gets 54 per cent of its funding from Government, via Whanganui District Health Board. The FFHW contribution is vital, chief executive Karen Anderson said.
"We wouldn't be able to continue without it. We wouldn't have anywhere else additional that we could get that support from."
The $60,000 a year is wonderful. But FFHW also does other things.
"If I need something more, I will put something in writing for them and they will discuss whether they can afford that, and if they can, they do."
Other hospices have cattle schemes, but Anderson has the impression Whanganui's is one of the best in the country, because of its longevity.
"It keeps generating income through difficult times."
Today there are 170 participating farmers across the Ruapehu, Whanganui and South Taranaki.
The advent of the cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis has made the charity's logistics more complicated. No farmers want cattle with the disease brought on to their property.
Cattle are now sourced only from farms with a history of breeding their own replacement stock, rather than buying in cattle from elsewhere. If that's not possible, there's another option.
"If we can't guarantee that they're free of M. bovis, we will buy two of the farmer's own," Doughty said.
Farmers aren't the only ones supporting hospice through the scheme. Whanganui businesses Grange Transport, David Jones Motors and stock agent Butch Jurgens help, too.
Doughty said FFHW still had most of its original grazers and about $600,000 in assets.
"Without our grazers, both new and old, we simply wouldn't be where we are today and I can't thank those involved enough for their continued support," Doughty said.