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Dairy farming life in South Westland

While recently revisiting dairy farming clients in South Westland's HariHari, I had the opportunity to talk to a number of the locals and compare our lifestyles.

Most would expect a "Coaster's" life to be different to ours on the North Island's sunny east coast, but how vast that difference is, may just surprise you.

Weather

It is hard to imagine but my clients endure two metres of rainfall each year. In fact, when they first arrived in the district, it rained for six days straight, with each day averaging four inches of rainfall. That particularly year, it rained almost consistently for 12 months with the longest dry period being six days.

In an attempt to keep the water off the land, hump and hollow drainage is extensive, with the humps nearly two metres above the hollow. The paddocks are frequently black with pugging after the cows are taken out, however the rain is so heavy that it often washes all the soil back into the hollows, effectively self-sealing and levelling itself.

As you would expect, there is a lot of leaching with the heavy rains, so fertilizer is applied little and often, e.g. 300 kg in three dressings. Calcium status is low, P levels struggle to 18 – 20, and pH levels start at around 4.5. Lime in this area is important to sweeten the country, to get the soils working better and to help deter the rushes which thrive in the wet conditions.

Animal health and production

With a high possum population, tuberculosis has been an on-going problem in South Westland. This year some 52 herds are under movement control compared to last year's 80. With movement control your herd is white tagged, people can't take your grazers, and you are unable to buy or sell stock.

Due to the high rainfall levels the cows are often affected. It was actually so wet in 1998, I personally witnessed that the hair on the cows' backs had rotted and slid off, leaving them bald and looking disgusting.

As you would expect production is affected accordingly with levels around 300 kg/ms per cow and 800 kg/ms per hectare on a mainly all grass system.

Consequently dairy farms sell for around $18 - $24 per kg/ms, and considering the constraints, I believe this is probably a very realistic price.

Machinery

Farming in South Westland you need to be self-sufficient.

Although there are contractors, they are hard to get so, most Coasters have their own balers enabling them to bale their hay when it is ready rather than waiting for the contractor or the next lot of rain.

In some cases the rivers are above the level of the land so machinery is constantly used to keep the river dug out to avoid flash flooding. Consequently many farmers have their own digger and I would say that this would probably be an essential part of any Coaster's machinery complement.

The cost of repairs is huge, for example if you need to get servicemen from Christchurch over to service the computer on your tractor, it could cost up to $4,000. As a result farmers tend to avoid the flash tractors, opting for the older models that they can maintain them themselves.

Due to both rainfall levels and the coastal influence rust seems to be an issue, with both machinery and roofs passing away prematurely into a brown mass.

People

Once you are a Coaster, it is hard to leave. A lot of the Coasters have rarely been away from South Westland, never mind travelling up to the North Island. They all know each other (and each other's business) so there is good community involvement and they genuinely care about each other.

A large part of the population is from Irish decent, they are a resilient bunch with a broad sense of humour and an active social life centred around the pubs.

Summary

So I left the HariHari reflecting on a Coaster's completely different life to ours on the East Coast of the North Island. Although peaceful and tranquil, South Westland, with its high rainfall and difficult farming conditions, is a harsh and unforgiving place to live. A tough place for tough people.


 

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