Sisters doing it for themselves

19:03, Jan 30 2013
downs stand
Sheep and beef farmer Laura Downs is keen to attract more women to Taranaki Women in Farming.

A young Taranaki farmer running a 360-hectare sheep and beef farm almost by herself takes it in her stride.

Twenty-four-year-old Laura Downs is appropriately named.

Down to earth, the practical and independent young woman is keen to promote Taranaki Women in Farming for women to develop their practical farming skills.

The scientist joined the group after being invited to address one of their meetings last year.

Having graduated in 2008 from Massey University with a Bachelor of Science degree, she now has a part-time role with Ravensdown, assisting sales representatives in the preparation of nutrient budgets, nutrient management and soil testing.

Taranaki Women in Farming chairwoman Bronwyn Muir, of Eltham, said Downs represented the future of the industry.


"She is a career woman in her own right and now she is developing a farming business in which she is the main practical driver. She understands the realities of New Zealand farming. We hope she will encourage more young women to become involved."

Taranaki Women In Farming organised events with a practical focus, Downs said.

"We do practical stuff, so we don't have to rely on the guys all the time. Often on farms, guys make all the decisions. We'd like to see women more involved in their farm business so that guys are not in charge all the time."

Most of the 30 members of Taranaki Women in Farming were involved in sheep and beef farming and the group was keen to attract more dairy farmers and lifestyle block owners.

Downs makes the most of the opportunity to mix with other women working on farms.

"You find you have problems in common. When you talk to others, you find you're not the only one who's short of grass."

She grew up on the Downs home farm at Pukengahu, near Stratford, and now owns the property near Te Popo in eastern Taranaki in partnership with fiance Sami Werder.

She is responsible for the day-to- day running of the farm and finds the theory she learned during her study adds another layer to her practical farming knowledge.

On July 1, the couple will become the proud owners of the slightly larger Awatea Farm, owned for nearly 70 years by the Hosking family, at nearby Huiroa.

Awatea Farm, with two sets of cattleyards and a four-stand woolshed with covered yards, can run 4500 stock units.

The couple's sheep flock includes 430 two-tooths and 1000 mixed-age ewes.

They have already sent four drafts to the freezing works in the last fortnight and will keep 200 of their remaining 900 lambs for replacements. They also have 60 jersey bulls bought as yearlings for sale as two-year-olds and 215 dairy grazers, for a total of 3500 stock units.

"I've always loved the farm and it's always a challenge to prove to Dad and my brothers that I can do it. It's satisfying, especially when two drafts of lambs were heavier than Dad's."

Like Downs, Werder has a degree from Massey University and uses his Bachelor of Applied Science in an agribusiness role at the ASB in Hawera. The couple undertake big tasks together when Werder gets home from work or at the weekends.

"And if we need a hand, my two farming brothers come and help.

"They're pretty handy shearers."

The 22-year-old twins, Lance and Lloyd, run the family's other two properties at Strathmore and Aotuhia, in eastern Taranaki.

Their parents, Kevin and Jean Downs, own a total of 5000 hectares.

Each day, Laura Downs checks the mobs of dairy heifers and sheep and their water supply and moves them to new grazing areas if necessary. Depending on what needs to be done, that takes between one and four hours. Then there are always little jobs that need doing, like fixing fences.

"Growing up on a sheep and beef farm at Pukengahu, I've done it all my life - different from kids in town.

Just a month ago, she would have said the couple's five-year goal was to move to a bigger farm, but now they will be doing that within five months.

After getting married in March at the family's Strathmore farm, the newlyweds are heading to Switzerland for a month. When they return, they will get ready to move to Awatea Farm, where they plan to extend the water system and improve the fencing.

"We'll get the farm as good as we can, but it's probably at its potential for stock units.

"We'll keep the drawings down to make it as profitable as we can and have fun while we're doing it. We'll also look to pay off debt."

Taranaki Daily News