Comment: Rowena Duncum gives voice to the high and lows, hard work, love and dedication of all farmers through the story of one farmer, Bruce Eade, as he celebrates 25 years on his farm.
I recently had the honour of being the first guest speaker on new agriculturally focused online platform "Herd it". After waffling on about my life's "achievements" (current runner-up, women's world gumboot throwing, thank-you-very-much!) and my role with The Country, I fielded a question around how farmers can effectively communicate with urban dwellers.
This is something I get asked often, and there's no one-size-fits-all, but something that always resonates with me is when farmers open up and showcase their lives, their achievements and when things don't go quite so well. It makes it real. It makes it relatable.
Those in the industry can learn from it, or it could be inspirational for someone interested in agriculture. But most of all, they're speaking directly to urban New Zealand, with no "media spin" on things. And that's the best voice there is.
A day or so later, I came across West Otago farmer Bruce Eade sharing the steps he and his family took in celebrating a milestone on farm. It ticks all the boxes I've just mentioned and is a really interesting tale to boot.
So often we just see the end result and don't understand what it took to get there, so I want to share Bruce's story with you.
West Otago farmer Bruce Eade's story:
Today marks a very special day for us. Twenty-five years ago, we moved to our current farm. There's been some big changes since then, along with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Farming is character building to say the least, but I wouldn't change a thing.
We had a farm signed up just out of Riversdale in Southland originally, but at the eleventh hour it fell through. We then found the piece of dirt we now call home. I've driven past the original farm a few times and thought how different things would have been if we'd ended up there.
We went from milking 180 cows through a 12-aside herringbone (ASHB) all year round at our old farm at Tisbury, south of Invercargill, to milking 300 through a 30 ASHB in the first year at Kelso.
Kelso had been a 185ha dairy grazing farm before we converted it. The lanes were done with "grave" dug from the farm in February before we took possession in June. My father and a family friend re-fenced the whole place with our "mankiller" post driver and a David Brown 995.
We were only the third dairy farm in the district, and we paid $1 million for the farm, which was a lot of money back then.
"They'll be broke and gone in five years" the old boys all said at the time. But we're still here.
Our cowshed was built by Waikato Dairy Builders. The crew actually came down from the Waikato. They started in May and lived on site most of the time, in a caravan in the hay shed, that still is next to the cowshed to this day. The build seemed to take longer than it should have.
In fact, the build was so late we ended up milking 70 heifers on a two-cow plant in the hay shed. We would start milking at 1pm and get home about 7pm. When the zig-zag went in the herringbone, we had the two-cow plant in a wheelbarrow in the pit and thought it was heaven!
It seemed to rain every day from 10 June till end of September that first year. The crops of kale were poor, and we unintentionally wrecked many hectares of grass along the way. Our land doesn't handle heavy stock well in the winter
We lost a LOT of cows that spring. As silly as it sounds, our cows, having come from a flat farm, didn't know how to calve on the rolling hills. I remember one cow, a favourite – Rachel, being cast in the rain one night. Dad and I had to roll her onto the tractor tray to get her inside.
She spent days in the hay shed, with us carting feed and water to her, lifting her and such like, but to no avail. We had to put her down. That was a very dark day and had us questioning if we had made the right move.
Because we went from 180 to 300 cows and Ayrshires were hard to come by, we had to buy a few budget cows. The rest of the numbers were made up by leasing some crossbred R2 heifers – we got to keep any bull calves, but the heifers went back to the owners.
I have a tremendous love of machinery and have amassed a large collection now, but it wasn't always the case. In 1995 we took over with just a David Brown 995 and loader; a John Deere 6200, twin-drum UFO mower, three-furrow plough, 10ft discs and a Giltrap silage wagon.
Sometime in the early 2000s we extended the 30 ASHB to 40. In 2007 we added 80ha of the neighbours to the farm and, as before, did all the water scheme and fencing ourselves. Cow numbers increased slightly over the years to our current 540-550 herd
We've always been ones to control as many aspects of daily farming life as possible and becoming fully self-contained was part of this. All young stock, silage and crops have always been done on the platform, apart from a couple of extreme cases.
After many winters on kale in 2012, we made what was considered a bold move at the time, to sink over $1 million into our free-stall barn, to get all our cows off the land during winter.
Having housed 200 cows in winters since 2005, going the whole hog was a big call and an equally big investment. It has undoubtedly been the right move for us, as the future of farming constantly changes.
In May 2019 we bought 120ha adjacent to the home farm. This has made everything "final" in my opinion.
We have the scope to feed all our stock, not just heifers, but rear bulls as well, which also means we are on the path to zero bobbies. We use slurry from our barn to fertilise the land and make both grass and cereal silage from it. It's a continuous circle of adding nutrients and harvesting grass.
So that's a small insight into our journey over the past 25 years.
We got here through hard work (very hard work) and dedication. Not to mention our love for the pedigree Ayrshire cow, and later the pedigree Holstein cow.
Plenty of bad days, but we stuck at it. I won't be around to see 100 years unfortunately, but I hope one of our family will.