Townie life now a world away for new dairy farmer

LAIRD HARPER
Last updated 06:52 19/12/2013
Farmers/sharemilkers Jody and Charlie McCaig with their son Finley, 18 months.
Fairfax NZ
COUNTRY LIFE: Farmers/sharemilkers Jody and Charlie McCaig with their son Finley, 18 months.

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Jody and Charlie McCaig are living the rural dream.

They have a farming career on the rise, national recognition for their skills and, most importantly, a perfect place to raise a family.

Not bad for a couple who, until about five years ago, were knee-deep in British urban sprawl.

It's fair to say farming was never in Charlie McCaig's blood.

The Englishman was a townie through and through, with a curriculum vitae full of desk jobs.

New Zealand was quite literally a world away. "At that point I hadn't really come within 30 foot of a cow," he said.

But, after meeting his wife-to-be, the pair packed their bags in 2008 and headed to Jody's home province of Taranaki to be close to her family.

The job market was stagnant so, hunting a bit of cash, they signed up for relief milking jobs on coastal Taranaki farms.

"While we were doing that, a couple of people offered us full-time positions and we told them we weren't sticking around," he said. "It was just something to fill the time."

Then a light bulb went off, and the couple set about developing a career among cows and quad bikes. "We took the plunge, tried dairying and haven't looked back since."

However, to tap into a industry dominated by established families and big money, the pair say they needed something that would get them noticed.

"We came into this a little late in our lives," he said. "We felt a bit behind the pace and we were looking for something to push ourselves, and get our name out there."

So they entered the annual Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards. "Through the process, we found out all the things farmers consider important," Jody McCaig said.

So they developed a portfolio of production rates, costs and year-on-year improvements. "Something employers are looking for," she said.

Charlie McCaig added: "And it gave us a network of people who were all positive, energetic and going places themselves."

The pair were rewarded for their commitment to and enthusiasm for farming with a key award in the province's 2011 competition, securing the prestigious Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year title and coming second in the national round.

Needless to say, they have have been ardent supporters of the contest ever since.

"We have got a brilliant network of people we can call on now," he said.

"These are people who have either gone through the competition with us or those who have employed us."

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After a spot on a Pihama farm owned by Michael and Barbara Stevenson, they took up a role as variable-order sharemilkers on the Taranaki Community Rugby Trust farm near Manaia.

Now, they have secured a 50:50 sharemilking position on the Te Kiri farm owned by South Taranaki District councillor Ian Armstrong and wife, Judith.

"Our approach to this business is that you have to go big at one level to go small at the next," Charlie McCaig said.

"In order to get a small 50:50 job, you have to have a big variable-order job to build up money."

But most of Taranaki's rising dairy stars are staying mum when they should be singing their own praises.

Entry numbers in the annual competition are low and organisers have put up a prize of a chainsaw and safety gear to get farmers involved.

Regional convenor Rebecca Van Den Brand, who won the region's 2012 Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title with husband James, said as well as the substantial prize pool on offer, the chainsaw gave all entrants a chance to win something.

The dairy awards have three categories: Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year, Farm Manager of the Year; and Dairy Trainee of the Year.

The winners of the Taranaki contest go forward to the national finals in Auckland in May.

Entries are being accepted online at dairyindustryawards .co.nz and close tomorrow.

"Funny that in a season with a fantastic payout, bumper grass growth and increased production, people don't feel like it's the perfect year to enter," Charlie McCaig said.

- The Dominion Post

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