Friday, April 12, 2024

Farming with your bestie: where practical skills meets theory

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Two mates working on the same station share how their same but different background is a winning formula.
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jessica Clarke, 22, and Cecelia Blake, 23, are best friends and bull beef finishing specialists on Rangitaiki Station, a Pāmu farm, about 50km southeast of Taupō.

Still early in their farming careers, the two talk about what makes their friendship so special, and the story behind why cattle farmers might need to wrangle a sheep.

Jessica: I’ve been here at Rangitaiki nearly two years, and this was my first job out of uni. I’m from Taupō, born and bred. Cece got the job almost a year ago – she came up for the interview and spent a couple of days with me in my side-by-side around the farm. We’re literally the same person, it’s crazy.

Cecelia: Jess trained me up! It was her block that I took over when I started, because she had moved on to a bigger block. She spent a lot of time with me for that first month. I’m from the deep south – Riverton, in Southland. After twenty-one years down there I was looking for something different.

Jessica: We’re both block managers in our own right, so we pretty much work by ourselves but we do work in the yards together. We’re on the same team, so we help each other with yard work. I probably see her every day, to be honest, in passing or in the office.

Cecelia: I’ve always been rural. I grew up on a sheep farm and ended up working in dairy farming, milking in the morning and after school. Then I went full-time dairy farming for a couple of years. That lifestyle didn’t really work for me, so I went into sheep and beef down on a coastal farm. I absolutely loved the location, but the sheep aspect – not so much.

Jessica: I grew up on a lifestyle block with my parents, and my grandparents had a station out in Wairoa. So I didn’t have that much of a farming background, but I grew up around farms and always just helped out and loved it. Me and Cece always talk about it – I went to uni and did my bachelor of agricultural business, whereas she had the more practical background, going from farm to farm. So we both bounce off each other at work now, it’s so good.

Cecelia: I’ve got the practical and she’s got the theory. We learn off each other a lot, and it’s never like, “Oh, you’re dumb for not knowing that.” It’s supportive. I really value her honesty and her attitude. Like she’s always a go-getter and is so friggin’ reliable. If I need anything she’s just a phone call away. How many people are like that any more? She’s like the other half of my person.

Jessica: If I’m going away for the weekend and I want my dogs fed, Cece will just be like, “Sweet as!” And she’s a very honest person as well, she’ll say it how it is. I’m not afraid to ask her to do something for me because I know I’d do the same for her. We try to get off the farm, too. We play squash on Wednesdays.

Cecelia: We go to the pub; we’ve been mini golfing a couple of times. We went exploring to Jess’s parents’ place!

Jessica: Because we’re bull farmers, we’re only supposed to have cattle on our blocks, but some sheep got out on my block and they’d been out there for what looked like years. We had a free afternoon one Friday and I said, “Cece, shall we go try to catch these sheep?” They were woolly as. And Cece, she’s the sheep farmer, she was like, “We’ll get a crook and a dog and do it.” In the end we didn’t even need to hook them – Cece just ditches her quad and runs through the middle of the paddock and jumps on this sheep. She flips it over and hog ties it up with her dog’s collar! I was like, “Who is this person? And how does she know how to tie up a sheep!” And then she’s off getting another one. It was a great afternoon. We were sheep farmers for the afternoon.

Cecelia: It was the funniest thing ever, and we rocked back to one of the boys’ houses so they could shear them. One of the old shepherds came over and was like, “You guys caught these? And got them in the trailer?” I think when we say we’re bull farmers, that’s what gets people. A lot of the men are like, “Go girls!” and say we have more hair on our chests than the rest of them. And we love it. But it would be hard without each other.

Story written as told to Georgia Merton and photographed by Michelle Porter for Shepherdess magazine. Shepherdess magazine was started around a kitchen table on a dairy and beef farm in the Horowhenua. We continue to come to you from this kitchen table, and from many other farms, home offices and lounges across provincial Aotearoa. The magazine is here to connect, empower and inspire women across rural New Zealand, by offering a place to tell stories of our rural communities. Find out more about Shepherdess here

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