Keith and Tracey Crawford began their dairy careers with big dreams of farm ownership, when it was still a highly achievable goal for a determined young couple.
“Keith went dairy farming when he left school” says Tracey Crawford. “I left school and worked as a microbiologist at the dairy company. When we got married in 1986 we decided to go on the path of 29%, 39%, 50:50. We were pretty fortunate that we got to do all those stepping stones to set us up 50:50.”
They worked their way up through the industry, and finally bought a 90ha farm near Opunake, Taranaki, in 2006, where they now milk around 190 cows. This property was meant to be another step on the path to owning a larger farm, but in the intervening years their focus has shifted to making the most out of their current farm, in tandem with off-farm investments and maximising the opportunities for spending time with family and friends off-farm.
What can smaller herd farms offer?
Keith and Tracey are happy with their choice to stay smaller herd farming. “With a small farm we have still been able to support our children,” says Tracey. “Maybe through lending them a bit of money to buy their first house, that’s been awesome.
“Bigger farms have their place in the community too, but I still think a small farm has a lot to offer. Sometimes when you talk to staff on a large farm they are only doing one type of farming. They might be doing a lot of tractor driving, or just milking, whereas the smaller farmers are doing everything. With smaller farms the overall learning of farming practices is huge. You are doing all the financials, grass management, maintenance, milkings, your cows. We have that love, you know who’s your good cows.
Other smaller farmers have told us that they’ve had workers come who don’t know how to fence, or how to manage grass, because in the big job they have come from they have just been working in the cowshed.”
What have they gained from SMASH events?
Tracey also believes that getting off the farm to learn new information and network is an important part of running a successful farm business.
“You are never too old to learn, attending SMASH events, industry and bank days keeps you well-informed and up-to-date. It is great to get off farm to see how other people run their farms, learn new ways, and see what is out there. Even if it just gets you thinking, or allows you to debate it, or take the information away and share it with someone else, it is always worthwhile. I think if you keep up-to-date all the time, then you can move forward.”
Tracey is on the SMASH Taranaki committee and is a firm advocate for SMASH and its events. “They cover what’s happening on small herd farms. A lot of people on small herd farms don’t want to know about staff, for example, because many don’t have staff, or they are interested in seeing something new that might help them speed up milking. It’s lovely to go along and listen to farmers’ diversity. How people don’t just get into a rut and say “I only milk”. Say you are a successful dairy farmer milking 150 or 200 cows, but you’re now growing trees you can mill, or you are running an Airbnb, or you have set part of your farm up so people can bring their campervans in. A lot of people have done something outside the square that is bringing in an income which supports their smaller farm. The uniqueness of meeting other small herd farmers is that you get the vibe off the positive ones.”