A Canterbury mum is using the power of social media to connect women in rural areas, from the Chatham Islands to Northland.

Chanelle O'Sullivan arrived in the Mayfield district a year ago, with husband David and daughter Isabelle, then just 1.

Chanelle grew up in suburban Auckland but had always preferred country living. "Farming was something I always wanted to do," she says. "I used to go on horse-riding camps in the Waikato in school holidays and worked on the farm."

Armed with a certificate of agriculture, she headed for the Mackenzie Country to take up a position on a station overlooking Lake Pukaki. The view was idyllic but the owner of the property was something of a curmudgeon.


"He was a 60-year-old guy with two hip replacements - I lasted three months, which I thought was pretty good considering the previous guy only made it through one month.

"I had no chance to learn anything about deer - it was straight into the deer shed."

Chanelle met David O'Sullivan at a Mackenzie Young Farmers meeting a month into her job.

After a stint on a dairy farm, she found herself back on a deer farm near Timaru. The O'Sullivan family now live on a Barford Rd property which runs 3000 head of deer, 1000 sheep and beef cattle.

Soon after arriving in the district, Chanelle took over the Farming Mums NZ Facebook page as an administrator.

At the time it was a closed page with about 100 members. Chanelle changed the format from a page to a group, which now has 800 members and continues to grow. While in Wellington on a Federated Farmers leadership course Chanelle met representatives from Rural Women to discuss the page and found them very supportive.

1 May, 2014 9:21am
2 minutes to read

Since developing the concept in New Zealand, Chanelle has set up Farming Mums UK and Farming Mums. "I did some research and couldn't find anything like it in either country. There are about 50 members on each page. It can be difficult if you don't know anyone, and there are a lot of mums working on farms, and others doing administrative stuff."

One member minds two children while she harvests velvet from 600 stags in a room off the deer shed, Chanelle says.

The Farming Mums NZ site is loaded with pictures of mothers carrying out farming tasks with babies in front-packs and older children in strollers.

Chanelle controls the membership and the content of the page, and says sometimes personalities clash, but she is determined to remain neutral.

"If someone is stirring I delete them. Some people will say all sorts of things when they are hiding behind a computer."

Soon after taking over the page Chanelle realised many rural women were suffering from depression or struggling with the isolation.

"There have been a few ask for help. Mothers of younger kids often find themselves home alone for long periods - women in town usually have a partner home in the evening but that's not always the case on farms, especially in busy periods like calving or harvest time."

Having a platform to share these feelings is important, and Chanelle tries where possible to get support for these people, whether that's encouraging a neighbour to invite them for coffee, or delivering home baking.

Coffee groups are established in Geraldine and Ashburton and Chanelle would like to see more set up. "We've got members from the top of the North Island to Southland, even one from the Chathams."

Anneke Smit has taken on the job of editor for the Farming Mums website, which features members, businesses, recipes and a food blog, and Deanne Parkes is an administrator for the Facebook page.

"We are also hoping to get a nutritionist on board to provide quick healthy recipes for freezer meals, which will be great before calving starts for dairy farm mums."