This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
Coming to farming from a rock’n’roll lifestyle, Aidan Mills has had the best of both worlds and has no regrets about his non-traditional pathway.
His music career was kick-started by touring internationally as an audio engineer with the Black Eyed Peas when they first hit the scene, but the lure of the land brought him back to his roots on a dairy farm in Morrinsville.
“When I was young, I was tempted to go farming but followed my passion for music and concerts because there was just something about delivering a great-sounding event that I loved,” Mills says.
“But as much fun as it was, it was never going to be forever, and I’m glad I’ve made it back to farming, it’s such a great lifestyle for our family.”
He worked in the music industry across New Zealand and around the world before going into event production and then leaving the industry altogether in 2018. After that, he stayed home with the kids for a few years and worked part-time for a friend while his wife, Natalie, was working full-time in the beauty industry in Auckland.
Now they are into their second season on a Morrinsville dairy farm and wonder why they didn’t leave the rat race sooner.
“Our whole lifestyle is so much more relaxed,” Mills says.
“In Auckland, it was so busy all the time, nothing compares to living and working on a farm.”
His first taste of dairy farming was spending time when he was young on a farm his great-uncle owned. After Mills finished school, he did a music course and learnt how to do the sound for concerts while playing in several bands in Gisborne. At the same time, his dad was working on a local dairy farm and when he moved to Australia, Mills was offered the job.
“We were milking 110 cows through an eight-bail, step-up walk-through shed,” Mills says.
“That was a great first shed to work in as I was standing with the cows and had to hug into them to put the cups on and it’s where my love for cows grew.”
He spent around 18 months there before heading down to Manawatū in 2002 for a role on a bigger farm. He planned to grow his dairy career and climb the typical pathway but when the opportunity with the Black Eyed Peas came up, he had to decide.
“I was offered the opportunity to be an audio engineer for a band that was touring overseas, which had been a dream of mine and I had never been overseas, but I wasn’t sure.
“I had only been on the new farm six months and the farmer had a clear career path for me, but he told me I’d always regret it if I didn’t and that I had to go, so two weeks later I was on a plane.”
It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he thoroughly enjoyed his career in music. Farming remained in the back of his mind, but he discounted it when he met Natalie because she had no interest in moving to a farm.
But the urge kept niggling as he could see the lifestyle opportunity for the family and managed to bring her around. Before they got started, they sat down and wrote their wishlist as they were adamant that the right farm and the right people were the most important considerations.
During their job hunt they looked at a variety of roles across several farms before settling on the Morrinsville farm with Bruce and Margaret Wilton.
“They have been amazing. It had been 20 years since I last worked on a farm so I was a little rusty but Bruce has been very patient.
“He can see how much we love it, and it’s both sides, the practical and it keeps you thinking.”
They are milking 290 crossbreed cows on 97ha. The farm embraces technology, with automatic cup removers, an automatic teat sprayer and Protrack.
They have immersed themselves in local DairyNZ and SMASH and events held by the vets, learning something new every time and making some great contacts.
“There’s a lot of good support around, and so many opportunities to learn.”
Mills has completed a Business by Numbers course and aspires to climb the dairy ladder one day. He plans to utilise specialised avenues for training and education.
Four of their five children are still living at home and have adjusted well. The older ones were a little unsure initially but have picked up work locally and the younger two spend a lot of time on the farm.
“It’s just the perfect lifestyle for a family, even though our working day spans over a 12-hour period, Bruce is adamant we have good breaks and I only work eight to nine hours throughout the day.
“It’s so good to be able to see my family and share the day with them.”
Off the farm, Natalie is a relief teacher at the local daycare, and she also runs the local area for the charity Pro Love, which helps new mums with baskets of essentials to get them going.
The running joke in the family is Mills only has one friend, farm owner Bruce, but he is starting to build his local network too and enjoys supporting the kids’ sports and leading a local Christian Warrior Fellowship group.
“We’ve got a 10-year plan in mind, but the big aim is to progress every year.
“We are very fortunate to have found the perfect farm to get us started on our journey and encourage others to consider it as a lifestyle option, but definitely have a list of what you’re looking for, be very specific and don’t settle for anything else.”