The Ashley Dene Farm land was purchased in 1909 by the Canterbury Agricultural College (as Lincoln was known then). It covers 355ha and is located about approximately 15kms west of the Lincoln campus. For the first 30 years it was part of the College's overall land portfolio and operated mostly as an independent unit. It carried about two ewes per hectare with extensive cultivation for forage crops and oats for chaff.
In 1937 Professor Eric Hudson conducted a review and it was decided that Ashley Dene should be used to research and demonstrate methods of increasing productivity on the lighter lands of Canterbury. It took nine years to achieve the initial vision and by 1948 carrying capacity had more than doubled to five ewes per hectare. During this time investigations relating to appropriate sub clover establishment techniques, lime and fertilizer applications, and grass species were carried out.
From 1949 there was increased focus on animal research work with the wool boom of the 1950's supplying working capital that catalysed a drive for further productivity increases.
Changes and improvement continued to be made over the years and from its inauspicious start Ashley Dene has, over a century of University ownership, developed as a leading dryland farm that has had significant impacts on the management of many other commercial farms. Management philosophies and objectives have modified in response to emerging problems and economic drivers of each particular period. The farm's extension role has always been kept in mind and it has hosted well attended annual field days.
Ashley Dene has been recently been used for both sheep and dairy support, with two major research themes being dryland pastoral systems and dairy wintering systems. Around 200ha is irrigated.
A new 190ha Research and Development Station has been created on the farm in 2016. The goal of the Research Station is to conduct farm systems research to improve the profitability, environmental and welfare performance of dairy and livestock farming systems.