In The Country Magazine
In The Country

Equestrian turned dairy farmer

My first impression of my new New Zealand home for, through the ears of Showtym mare as we made our way around the cross country course just out of Christchurch, having stepped off the plane and onto NZ soil less than an hour ago… went something along the lines of I could get used to this!

It was breathtakingly beautiful, everything about it. Everywhere you looked, there was something to awe at. 

Talk about getting stuck right in though!

horse riding in new zealand
horse riding in new zealand

The farm was nestled in the Canterbury plains with the unforgettable backdrop of the snowy mountains… I was in heaven. Horses, country, farm and trucks! What more could a girl want. I was content riding both horses out each day, through the countryside, surrounded by the snowy mountains. I was my own boss. Regularly attending training clinics and shows with the owner.

I thought to myself this is far better than I had envisaged back in England.

calves feeding in new zealand

About a month after I moved to NZ, my partner flew out to start his harvest season with a contractor about an hour or so down the road. At first we thought no problem, we will make this work, but after a few weeks it was just near on impossible to catch each other for more than an hour before one of us (normally him!) fell asleep.

So… Dubiously I made the decision to move down and live with him. This obviously left me without a job… I was so adamant that I wanted to work with horses as that is what I had gone to do, however I realized pretty quickly AFTER the move that the South Island, Canterbury in particular (typically) was not a budding equestrian scene.

Panicking about being unemployed on a working holiday, I set out to look for something new…

One evening, when the boys finished early (bad weather due, YES!!) we had all been invited to go jet-skiing on a mate’s irrigation pond – I had no idea what this was until we arrived.. A huge pond to supply the irrigators around the farm with water to irrigate their paddocks. I very quickly became very familiar with irrigation after this let me assure you!! The jet ski was incredible, the fastest, most exhilarating machine I have been on yet! The adrenaline pumping through my body soon took my mind off the ice cold Spring water… 

As per NZ custom this venture was followed by a pub meal and drink to warm us up, I got talking to the guy who invited us, and who’s farm the pond was on and the usual questions popped up… how are you? What do you do? … Well at that point I found myself being offered a job.

I’ve just moved from Rakaia I said, I’m looking for a job at the moment…that’s when he piped up enthusiastically, are you really?! Come and work for me on my farm?! He sang eagerly.

Keen as I was, I wanted to know a bit more before I made a deal with this strange kiwi we had met only hours earlier while tearing up his pond! What kind of farm do you have? I asked.

A dairy farm was his response….

A dairy farm. Cows… They stink…. As much as I LOVE the countryside, and farming at home… Cows aren’t my favorite I was thinking… It’s the smell, it just gets right inside your nose, mouth even eyes!! I know what you’re thinking… City talk! But it’s not… This is a revaluation story, sit tight.

So me being me, despite my reservations thought I should give it a go… Partly because money was running out… Unfortunately being a lady of leisure is quite an expensive lifestyle!! 

new born calf in dairy shed

My first experience of the cow shed and milking was an eye open to say the least… I thought to myself, I was right about the smell. He warned me, it gets messy, my response bring it on! 

…oh it was bought..

After the first 10, maybe 20 cows getting used to this weird contraption that sucked milk out of their teats, I  found it oddly therapeutic. I was quite enjoying myself, in my own little world in fact, rhythmically cupping on each cow as she walked on to get her meal and be fondled from behind by little old me …

I got bought back to reality every so often with a threatening lifted tail and tensing of the hind signalling something not nice would be coming out of one of the orifices above my head… Mini heart attack over, or rapid jump out of the way until the coast was clear and I drifted off back into my zone…

cows drinking from water trough in new zealand

All the pro dairy farmers out here might be thinking ‘pfft townie she has no idea what she is talking about’, BUT I do… This post hopefully will make some of you laugh who have perhaps had a similar very unplanned spontaneous introduction to the dairy lifestyle as I have, and for those who are born and bred dairy farmers hopefully you will realize by the end of this post, the respect and total view change I have for the industry, it’s farmers and animals. So keep reading… 

I had to get used to the fact the only real transport around the farm was by motorbike! Now that took some adjustment…

The farms out there are nothing like back home, they are huge! You do not want to be walking around carrying fencing reels and standards in the blazing sun, or bitter cold.

To tell you the truth, I miss whizzing around on my little bike at 3:30 am to get the cows in for milkings, watching the sun rise as I went from field to field moving and making breaks in the paddocks for the herds.

There is one thing, I cannot put down into words well enough… there just aren’t any to justify what I want to explain to you… the sunrise. Those of you who are dairy farmers will know what I am talking about, but for those of you who aren’t, you’re missing out.

Despite the early mornings, the days when I just wanted to stay in bed, or when there was no point in the guys attempting to speak to me until at least the second coffee of the milking, the sunrise always fixed my mood.

I learnt so much during my time in New Zealand on various farms, made some amazing memories with some friends I hope to have for a long long time to come… I learnt a lot about myself too. The industry is not for the fainthearted or the lazy. It requires passion, motivation and persistence day in and day out. 

I attended a number of Dairy NZ meetings whilst I was working and a regular topic of discussion was the concern over the fall in milk prices and the effects it is having on NZ farmers. I saw first hand the impact from working on the farm every day, we were conserving everything, trying to come up with new initiatives to be frugal with our money all the time! 

The on-going Bobby calf debate was a hot topic too whilst I was there, I think the release of a controversial children’s book.. there was also a video released which sparked outrage within the industry and with the ‘welfare-bunnies’ who jumped on board the second they saw the opportunity to…

“Dairy industry bodies are appalled at the bobby calf mistreatment revealed in video footage recorded by animal rights group Farmwatch and released as part of a SAFE (Save Animals from Exploitation) public campaign launched against dairy farming in New Zealand this month.Cruel and illegal practices are in no way condoned or accepted by the industry as part of dairy farming. We don’t believe the mistreatment shown in these videos is widespread or that these videos fairly represent New Zealand dairy farming in general.” DAIRY NZ

I wholly agree with this statement being actively involved in the process on various farms…one farm I worked on treated Bobby calves appallingly, myself and my German backpacker colleague found ourselves sneaking milk to the calves who were skin & bone and would otherwise go without seeing milk for days at a time. Slinging them over the fences, or on one occasion shooting 20 at a time due to the fact the ‘farmer’s wife wanted to go to Australia for the weekend and so wouldn’t be around to tend to them…’

Another farm I worked on for a short period kept their Bobby calves, fed them and treated them just like the others…respect for the animals and the industry is key. But also understanding the position of the farmers.

To sum up the experience for me was totally unexpected, I NEVER in a million years thought I would become a dairy farmer… tractors and combines not a problem LOVE IT. Horses even better… until I tried it.

It honestly is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done, I loved every moment of it (almost!). I learnt so much, from AB testing, to treating lame and mastitis cows, to the account and office side of the industry.

If you are thinking of taking a gap year to NZ, I would honestly suggest working on a dairy farm for some of it. It is a life changing experience, at least it was for me. I might sound like some crazy cow obsessed lady (I am aware it is beginning to sound slightly like this) but, it really is worth your while. Give something back to the country that is giving you all the breathtaking sights and unforgettable experiences on your travels…

I miss it already and I never thought I would say it once I got used to ‘sleep ins’ again, but I do. I long to get up at 3:30 with the crisp morning air, the incredible view of the stars that I have never seen to a standard anywhere near in any other part of the world, to the morning groans in between our coffee as we set up the shed and begin another day…

I take my hat off to you all, and hope to be back soon. 


P.S ~ R.I.P to Bertha our favorite girl. xx

gum boots with beer bottle

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