Irish couple milk an 800-strong herd in New Zealand
Tired of long working hours and high living costs in Ireland, we took our family to Invercargill
Louise Purdon and her husband Jim, who left Ireland to run a dairy farm in New Zealand
Before we left Ireland, we were regular visitors to the Ploughing Championships, a great social occasion with something for everyone, whether you farm or not. But now we watch it from afar, more than 19,000km away.
I left Ireland for New Zealand nearly five years ago. My husband Jim and I had built a house in Carrickmacross, and we had two little girls. At the time, I was working in Dublin and had a three-hour commute every day. I was leaving the house at 7.30am and not getting home until after 6.30pm.
We had fabulous child minders, but I felt I was missing out on far too much of the girls’ lives and I wanted to be the one bringing them up.
Jim was managing a farm and was also working very long hours. We both felt stuck in a continual race, with very high mortgage and child minding costs. Amid growing dissatisfaction, we started to look at what alternatives were available to us.
Jim had farming contacts in New Zealand and we started to look at what would be involved in moving there permanently. After a lot of research, we applied for visas and moved to Invercargill, a city at the very bottom of the South Island.
We went straight into contract milking on an 800 cow farm with a wintering barn. Jim absolutely loved it from day one, whereas I was extremely lonely and homesick and really did question my sanity.
However, as we made friends and got more involved in the local community, life started to get better. We were extremely fortunate in that we had wonderful neighbours who were very kind and welcomed us into their homes and lives.
I also joined play groups and started to really enjoy spending lots of time with the girls, which had been my motivation for moving.
Invercargill has a climate exactly like Ireland, however it is a great place to live. There are excellent schools, every type of sporting facility, outlets for every hobby you can think off, no traffic jams and very friendly people. It definitely grows on you. We also have both ski fields and 30 degree sunshine within a two hour drive, depending on the season.
While here, we have progressed in farming. We started with 800 cows and stayed on that farm for three years. We then moved to 1,400 cows, with two milking parlours, and gained great experience in managing a larger team and all that goes with that.
This season we moved back to 800 cows, but have invested in our own machinery with the aim of getting into sharemilking [a farming practice where the herd and equipment are owned by the farmer but the land may not be] within the next two seasons.
As the girls are at school, I am more involved in the farm. I rear the calves, spray weeds, grass measure, and look after the health and safety and business side of things.
Farming, no matter where you are in the world, is a busy life and farmers here face the same challenges as Irish farmers in terms of the price of milk, finding staff, and so on.
The main differences between here and Ireland are the scale of farms and also the opportunities available. New Zealand offers the possibility of farm ownership, farms regularly change hands here and there is no tie to the land the way there is in Ireland.
Also, there are different types of farming opportunities available here, starting from farm assistant to working your way through to sharemilking, or farm ownership, if that is where your ambitions lie.
At the moment, we are still in calving season which is extremely busy. My day starts at 5.30am, with going out to feed the calves. I then come in and get the girls ready for school. When I get home from the school run, I usually help Jim, and sort out paperwork until it is time to collect the girls.
We have someone feed the calves in the evening as the girls have after school activities and my evening is spent being mum’s taxi service. At the moment, weekends on the farm are about just catching up on all the jobs that need to be done during calving.
Connected to family
I try to get home to Ireland every year with the girls, as it is really important they remain connected to their cousins and family in Ireland, and grow to love Ireland as much as their parents do.
I would love to move back to Ireland some day. New Zealand ticks every box in terms of lifestyle, people, job opportunities, great place to live, however it is so hard saying goodbye at Dublin airport and also missing out on key family events during the year.
That said, we have no plans to return home at the moment as we definitely wouldn’t have the same lifestyle and standard of living if we moved back. We would be stuck in a rat-race again, living for Friday evening.