It was celebration time at Wattle Park farm, 6km outside Temuka at Waitohi, earlier this month.

The McCulloughs celebrated 150 years of ownership of the farm and present owner with his wife Stephanie, Peter ''Dougal'' McCullough marked his 60th birthday.

Family and friends came together to remember the family ancestor who started it all, Samuel McCullough, and the generations of McCulloughs who followed.

Through marriage, the original farm settled by Samuel McCullough, who came out from Antrim, Northern Ireland, and took up the land in 1866, has been added to a nearby farm started around the same time by the Ackroyd side of the family.


Both of the farms have been given Century Farm awards for being in the same family for more than 100 years.

Peter is the fifth generation to have worked the 323ha farm, which the McCulloughs say is in ''the fish and chip zone'' because they are so close to Temuka.

Peter and Stephanie McCullough with the ancestral line of Wattle Park owners. Photos: Chris Tobin. Photo / Chris Tobin
Peter and Stephanie McCullough with the ancestral line of Wattle Park owners. Photos: Chris Tobin. Photo / Chris Tobin

After completing a bachelor of commerce degree at the University of Canterbury, he farmed in a three-way partnership with his mother Mary and brother Malcolm until 1995, when he went into partnership with his wife Stephanie, a nurse from Esk Valley. They married in 1983.

The attraction of working the farm has been he has enjoyed the lifestyle.

''You don't do the same thing day after day. It's the variety - seeing the stock going well and sending good animals away and improving the velvet production.''

The farm runs 150 hinds, 100 velveting stags and 140 yearlings as well as 400 ewes - well down from the 1800 they had in the 1980s.

They also have 50 breeding cows, and 150 fattening steers, bulls and heifers. Winter feed is planted each year, which includes swedes, turnips, kale but with drier seasons more lucerne has been planted.

''We thought of dairying but didn't have the irrigation,'' Peter says.


Stephanie says Peter would like farming more if it wasn't a seven-day-a-week job. In their time on the farm they have enjoyed only two full holidays.

The Century Farm plaque on the Wattle Park gate. Photo / Chris Tobin
The Century Farm plaque on the Wattle Park gate. Photo / Chris Tobin

Having a four-week period off just doesn't happen, but that is the nature of farming.

''There's stress, especially when the market prices aren't flash,'' says Peter.

He was one of the last farmers to drive sheep to the nearby Temuka saleyards. That happened in 2012.

There have been challenges over the years, including three big floods - in 1903, 1945 and 1986.

With the farm being in family ownership all the way through, stories of each flood were handed down the generations.

The 1986 flood blew out stopbanks and fences and paddocks were covered in water, although the farmhouse was spared.

''We lost about 100 ewes and had three weeks of fencing to fix,'' says Peter.

There have been other dramas as well.

During their time two haybarns have been burnt down and the farm has also been the target of sheep rustlers.

In 2003, their twin daughters Charlotte and Gabrielle spotted lights in the paddock. Peter was away at the time playing squash.

Stephanie, together with the twins, drove to the paddock. As they approached out of the darkness an old Land Rover roared past them.

''I thought it would slam right into us but as it went past we saw it had five sheep in the back.''

Then another vehicle came directly up behind them with its lights on full.

The police had been notified and eventually the main culprit was apprehended, by which time the sheep had been killed.

The court requested him to pay reparation but he left for Australia two days before having to pay his fine.

However, two months ago, and years after the incident, cheques started arriving from the Ministry of Justice. The offender was back in the country and paying his fine off with deductions from a benefit.

''It took me a while to get back to sleep at nights after that,'' says Stephanie, ''then a haybarn was burnt down a year later.''

Such occurrences are fortunately rare.

After five generations of family ownership Wattle Park looks certain to go to the next generation as well.

The McCulloughs' children: twins Charlotte, teaching in Marton, and Gabrielle (32) a physiotherapist with the Glasgow Warriors in Scotland; Victoria (28), a chemical engineer in New Plymouth; Georgina (27) with the North Otago Rugby Union in Oamaru and James ''Jock'' (23), a truck driver in Twizel - are all on the same page about the farm's future.

''The kids agree they want it in the family,'' Stephanie says.

- Central Rural Life