By Sam Jaquiery
Montie Hare initially felt out of place when he arrived back on his family’s newly converted dairy farm sporting an August tan, fresh from an OE.
He had grown up around drystock and when he left the farm in Cheltenham, Manawatū, to work in Auckland before heading overseas, his parents were running bull beef, making it a very different world to come home to.
“I really had no clue what I was doing, I remember doing some fencing around then, but who has time for fencing in August? I was basically a spare wheel,” Montie says.
The farm had been in the family for three generations as it was developed from bush to productive land and Montie’s parents, Bill and Trish, had run sheep for several years.
The conversion happened in 2011 but the idea had been brewing for a while. They knew the farm was well suited for dairy with its free-draining soils, and it is in a handy location. In 2004, they had expanded and purchased some neighbouring land.
This meant there was some financial pressure and the bank suggested dairy for more income.
The original plan included a sharemilker and they had one lined up but the cow shed construction was behind schedule and the plan fell apart pretty quickly.
This left Bill and Trish scraping around to put together a 600-cow herd in June-July while Montie was still on his OE.
Fortunately, Dave Scott, one of the people who had been working on the conversion – and was also the local publican – ended up coming on as a contract milker for the first few seasons, which took the pressure off.
“The herd was a mash-up of any carryovers and low-value cows they could find. It was slim pickings at that time of the year, and Dave really saved their backsides,” Montie says.
A discussion around succession started about 12 months after Montie had left for his OE. He was back in New Zealand for his sister’s wedding, so their parents got them all together and asked if anyone wanted to farm.
Until that point, he had never considered it. Their parents had always encouraged their children when they were young to do something off farm.
“Mum and Dad had always encouraged us to do other things. It was never said that coming back to the farm was an option.
“But it suited me, I was sick of the office environment, I felt like there was a lot of talking and not enough doing and just wanted to put my head down and work although I had no clue about dairy.”
He had a science degree and had studied finance and economics. Before his OE he worked in the finance team for Lion Nathan Brewery in Auckland looking after commercial finance, pricing and sales margins.
He did similar work when he was in London and also did a stint driving tractors, working ridiculous hours for low pay – but he enjoyed the experience. He dragged his now-wife Tess with him, and she took a bit of convincing that farming was the way to go when he got back after the wedding trip.
“Tess was a town kid from Napier, so when I went back to London after that family discussion I had to get her on board.
“I made sure to propose not long after we got home too, just to be sure I had her locked in,” he laughs.
After getting back it was only a short time until he was completely thrown into the deep end when the contract milker resigned, leaving at the start of December.
He and his dad toyed with getting a manager but decided to give it a go themselves with Montie stepping into managing.
“Dad was a good grass farmer and he knew how to run a business, and I can learn quickly.
“Taking over after calving and AI was finished was the best time too, so we just winged it really.”
He absorbed as much information as he could from the support around him, leaning on the local DairyNZ consulting officer at the time, his fertiliser rep and the LIC agri-manager. He also read nearly everything he could on the DairyNZ website.
“I guess I had the right attitude and I was curious and it probably helped that Dad didn’t know anything as he didn’t influence me, unless I was missing anything obvious, like applying fert at key times.”
Looking back, he knows it was a steep learning curve but taking the time to learn as much as he could and getting involved with local discussion groups really helped.
He has also utilised farm advisor John Simmonds and says he has been a good sounding board.
“Rural professionals are so open and good at sharing info, there are so many people you can learn from.”
Montie and Tess now own the cows and lease the farm. Bill and Trish still rear the calves and every season Montie tries to make it easier for them.
“I don’t think they’d know what to do [with themselves] if they weren’t involved. They love it.”
Tess is also working part-time as a project manager at FMG and they are working towards buying the farm one day. They have two boys, four-year-old Jack and two-year-old Rory. Jack already thinks he will be a farmer one day.
“The boys love it and that is exactly why I wanted to come back to the farm, for the family lifestyle.
“And the goal for now is to refine our low-cost, grass-based system to maximise as much as we can.”
This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.