Bay of Plenty sharemilkers Cam and Jess Lea are busy buying out their partners to achieve farm ownership. Jessica tells the story, with help from Cam.

If you asked me 10 years ago what I intended to do in the future, not from a farming background, dairy farming would never have crossed my mind. Now here we are 50/50 sharemilking two neighbouring farms with kids in tow, planning to succeed in our chosen profession as well as making the most out of what our place in paradise has to offer. 

It has been an incredibly interesting ride to get here, my husband Cam and I had settled down originally in Te Awamutu, Cam was agricultural contracting while I was working in retail. We started our family together and saved enough to buy our first home. We had our first daughter and not so long after our second was on the way. Cam had now been contracting for a few years and had progressed as far as he wanted to climb. With our growing family, the late nights and busy seasons had prompted him to reconsider our career path. 

Cam had been raised as a farm kid and decided it was a good lifestyle to raise children. We applied for a handful of jobs and were fortunate to be selected by Andrew Clark, a farmer in my hometown of Opotiki. We sold up (unfortunately before the property boom) and moved home. 

For a couple of years Cam worked for Andrew and Kelly, his partner, with a goal of eventually sharemilking in mind. Conversations with Andrew progressed into a shareholder partnership along with a group of farmers from our discussion group, one being our neighbour Colin. 

When the right job happened to come along, I never would have imagined it would be the quaint 300 Jersey cow farm I could see from my grandmother’s house. Everyone put in a share with us being the majority shareholders and the aim was to buy everyone out within five years. We are currently in the process of buying everyone out a year early. 

It’s been a massive learning curve, considering I had never milked a cow in my life, to be thrown into solo milkings in our 24-aside Herringbone dairy, raising calves and now three children in tow. 

We bought the owner’s cows and have kept the herd predominantly Jersey. The first season was a big adjustment especially with having each other to work with. We’ve been fortunate to have a good team of people around us for advice and now we feel like we know our farm and our cows well. We know when the farm grows grass and that in summer all we have to count on is kikuyu, as the ryegrass disappears.

After four seasons here our neighbour Colin sustained an injury requiring surgery and deeming him unfit to run his farm. With six weeks before the new season we accepted the job of 50/50 sharemilking his 250 cows and promptly found someone to help us run the daily tasks. 

It’s been a mammoth task and we’ve had to prioritise running the farms above having our own time out. With a foreseeable favourable payout we are hoping to be a few steps closer to our dream of farm ownership.