Once a year, Federated Farmers selects farms from all around the country to open their gates to the public for a sneak peek into rural life. Danielle Wright went to Karaka farm for a preview.

Town to Country is how Federated Farmers like to describe the day each year when town children can meet their country cousins and anyone interested can take a behind-the-scenes look at how farms work. And times have changed.

After an easy drive to Karaka, we arrive at the family farm run by brothers Murray and Graham Shaw. Their milking shed is like none other I have ever seen - it's as much an education in farm life for me as it is for my children.

For a start, one person can milk 500 cows alone, with the aid of a rotary milking shed that slowly moves around as the cows are milked. As soon as the state-of-the-art system senses a cow is almost finished, her milking cups are automatically removed and a gentle stream of water hits the cow's face, letting her know it's time to back out and head home to the field.

The milking takes place at 5am and again late afternoon. If you head down on the Farm Day you won't see the milking in real life but you will be able to see it shown on video and hear all about the very new and impressive technology here.


"For many children, it will be their first experience to touch or feed a calf," says Murray, whose 150ha dairy farm will be opened to the public for the first time.

His mother also lives in a house on the farm and his grandchildren Jack (5) and Ella (3) are visiting while we are there.

The children show us around with pride, and smile as they get to ride with Granddad on his quad bike to see a wobbly-legged calf, just a few days old.

My daughter shies away from the calf and snuggles closer to me, but Jack gets up nice and close. I ask its name, but that is greeted with soft chuckles from the Shaws.

The farm animals I have met tended to be the ones with names on those cramped vans that pull up at kindergartens and kids' parties around Auckland offering pony rides and the chance to feed a lamb. They always leave me feeling sad for the animals.

A day at the Shaws' farm does the opposite. Even though the calf has no name, it seems very well looked after.

I ask Murray what the best thing about living and working on a farm is and he simply smiles, pointing around him: "The outdoors, being in the fresh air and being my own boss."

One farmer's wife, Margaret Cryer, says, "Farm days are very educational. They help people understand the environmental issues we face, understand where milk comes from and realise individual farmers have no control over the price of milk in the shops."

Cryer, who raised three children on a farm says, "Country children learn responsibility by rearing animals as part of the farm. Sam Johnson of the Student Volunteer Army is a good example of a country upbringing."

The reluctance of my children to get too close to the animals is proof enough for me that more days on farms are in order.

Farm Day: This year's Farm Day is tomorrow (Sunday, March 18th). When people arrive, they'll be put into groups and taken on a tour of the farm on one of four tractors and trailers to see sheep mustering demonstrations, possibly some calving cows, the cow shed, the Fonterra tanker for a demonstration and free milk drinks, as well as demonstrations of hay baling, explanations about fertilisers and nutrients in the soil and the importance of bees. For more information see farmday.co.nz.

Getting there: The Shaws' farm is at 66 Biddick Rd, Karaka, and is open 10am to 3pm on Sunday. It's an easy 40-minute drive from Auckland CBD. No entry fee.

Stop off for a chocolate cupcake filled with large chocolate chunks, and fluffies made with smiley faces and marshmallows at Harry's Kitchen (257 Linwood Rd, Karaka) on the way home. Chandeliers, floral metal watering cans, tables with elephants for legs and zebra-striped rugs await - just remember to leave your gumboots at the door.