Mark and Louisa Willis' 145ha property at Otaitai is a little different from its neighbours for a couple of reasons.

Not only is the sheep and beef farm just outside Riverton the last hold-out in the district against the dairy tsunami, there is the added feature of a fully equipped professional gym on the property.

''I've never been particularly fond of dairying and I'm happy to say I've never milked a cow,'' said Willis.

''I like the lifestyle that comes with working with sheep.''


The Willises run predominantly Texel Coopworth sheep as well as a few Murray Grey-Friesian cross steers.

''We really just use the steers as tools to help clean up the pastures,'' Willis said.

One of the Willis' 1-year-old Murray Grey-Friesian steers. Photo / Ken Muir
One of the Willis' 1-year-old Murray Grey-Friesian steers. Photo / Ken Muir

There is also a portion of the farm planted out in potatoes and carrots for Pyper's Produce in Invercargill.

Running a sheep and beef operation provided more flexibility than dairying, he said.

This meant when he wanted or needed a day off he could take one and could carry out work when it needed to be done.

''Farming has changed from being a lifestyle occupation to being a business,'' Willis said.

''It will be interesting to see what further changes and adaptations younger farmers will make as they come through.''

The Willis family has farmed at Otaitai for about 10 years, having taken over from Mr Willis' stepfather. The farm had previously been a dairying operation.


When they took over, the property had a pure Romney flock and the first thing they did was see how they could make improvements.

They settled on Texel Coopworths from the Blackdale Stud in Pourakino.

''There's been a bit of a learning curve in switching away from Romneys,'' Willis said.

''We're still learning but we find the Texels nicer to handle and easier to work with.''

The move to grazing the Murray Grey-Friesian steers came about almost by accident.

''We were looking for some beef calves and someone we knew put us on to the breeder,'' Willis said.

''The arrangement has worked out really well and the animals thrive in our environment.''

They are still developing the relationship with Pyper's Produce in terms of the practicalities of allocating a portion of the property to vegetables.

''The need to rotate paddocks means quite a bit of land can be tied up and we're keen to get some of these paddocks back so we can assess the impact of the vegetables on them.''

The farm also has a fully equipped professional gym.

Mrs Willis said she had always been a personal trainer and the decision to build a gym on the farm came after the facility she had previously worked at was sold.

''I started training in the woolshed and we decided to build a gym at home rather than renting in Riverton,'' she said.

Her 37 clients come from the surrounding area as well as from as far away as Invercargill.

The venture had taken off.

''We paid for the building and the equipment in the first year,'' she said.

The success of the business had meant some adjustments when it came to working on the farm.

''I need Louisa to help with some of the work and we have to fit in around her availability with the gym,'' Mr Willis said.