Matt and Sarah-Jane’s story

Matt started his career farming drystock on the family farm, but its sale enabled him to buy his own property. It was then that he decided dairy farming was the more profitable way to go.

His next step was to purchase a dairy farm in Wharepapa South, near Te Awamutu, in 2002. He still farms there, alongside his wife Sarah-Jane, who has been involved in dairy farming in the area from the word go.

Why a smaller herd?

Smaller herd farming suits Matt and Sarah-Jane down to the ground. Matt says, “I like the outdoors, seeing the sun rise, being outside, working with animals. They like to give their cows one-on-one attention and they feel larger herds are more industrial, which is not the kind of business they want to be involved in. We like to know our cows and look after them. They are not one of thousands: we don’t want to have a factory farm.”

Although Matt is now thinking about employing a manager, not having to deal with staff has certainly been an attraction up till now. “Smaller herd farming keeps it in the family,” says Matt. “We don’t need labour.” Like many smaller herd farmers Matt sees training and managing staff as extra hassle which he doesn’t need. Keeping it in the family has also allowed Matt and Sarah-Jane to build up a strong partnership working together.

Matt and Sarah-Jane believe smaller herds offer substantial benefits to the community at large. “If smaller herds weren’t around it would be a real loss to the community”, says Sarah-Jane. “Schools in particular would suffer. We are already seeing the effects of migrant workers, employed by larger farms, shifting in and out of the area.”

What have they gained from SMASH events?

They like the range of information covered at SMASH events and feel that other events in the industry don’t provide the same variety of information and can be too focused on a particular way of doing things.

Matt always learns new information from SMASH events which is applicable to their business. “I get a lot of information that I don’t pick up elsewhere. It comes from a different angle. Hearing practical ideas that work for other small farms is useful.” For example, when Matt and Sarah-Jane were contemplating switching to OAD coming along to an event on the subject was particularly helpful.

“Networking with other farmers of a similar type is great,” says Matt. “It is almost like a little club. You don’t see the same people every time, but you do see a lot of them again and again which is quite neat. You don’t get the same feel at other events: it is a culture that has developed.”

He believes having speakers who are willing to talk openly about more difficult or personal topics, for example, Doug Avery’s session on battling depression on farm at the SMASH 2014 conferences, breaks down barriers between people and adds to the unique and inclusive feeling.