Flashback to conversion

John Milne reflects on the family’s conversion of a beef and sheep farm to dairy.

MARCH 30 YEARS AGO, our family embarked on a conversion, a while ago today, but still clear in my mind as if yesterday.

It was a beef farm with a scattering of sheep on it. The total block was around 250 hectares. Our neighbours brought the half we couldn’t access because of a flood relief channel that ran around the outside.

We ended up with 70ha freehold and 24ha Māori lease. It was a blank canvas conversion, there was only a fertiliser shed and an old railway cabin on skids that an old local used to live in years ago. The cabin became our smoko room and Friday night beer hall.

Quite a challenge at the time for Jo-Anne and myself, both 21 at the time. We had a lot of work ahead of us, plus my parents were also heavily involved as well. Dad and Mum still had the original farm to run at that time.

It’s a flooding property so input from the previous owner proved invaluable as to where to place infrastructure, and to this day it’s still flood-proof even after the deluge of July 2021.

We all chipped in.

Mum was busy behind the scenes making sure there was smoko for the crew every day at 10am, (builders are always on time for that), as well as milking and keeping the original family farm running.

Dad and two of his close mates were either milling trees for the framing and cladding of the building or cutting and welding galvanised pipe for construction of the bails and yard. There was a trough mould built so everyday after feeding stock and before smoko the mould needed to be stripped so a new one was ready to pour.

Jo and I were flat out rolling up old fences and putting two- wire electric fences up as we went along. The beauty with a blank canvas was we could get everything right the first time.

The herd arrived about the start of April, 170 heifers from the ‘Naki’ (Taranaki) from four lines, 30 budget cows arrived at dry-off from the home farm. That was the start of what we have now, 30 years later.

It was well-set-up and ran really well right from day one. Sure there were teething problems, but we expected that. We employed and worked alongside some great people and remain in contact with most to this day.

We had a few years under our belt when we started our family, now it became important for us to have a house on the farm (we lived in an old house on the original family farm, which was 1km away). We decided to shift Mum and Dad’s house so they could build a new one on the same site. Mum was not giving up her garden.

Taylor Contracting of Nelson was used to move it. We got it already for them to back under and shift. I just read ‘The Taylors Way’ book which includes the hiccup we had when we moved it (see photos) and it brought back the memories. It’s a great read of a can-do attitude.

We settled in for a lot of years on that farm, raised our kids there, and went from wages to sharemilking, partnership to owners.

That farm has changed hands a few times now but still has the infrastructure from 30 years ago.