Country Life

Friday 6 May 2016, with Carol Stiles, Susan Murray, Cosmo Kentish-Barnes & Duncan Smith

Coastal Conversion

"Once you make a decision you run with it and that's the way we've done our life,"  Southland sheep and dairy farmer Ian Smith says.

Ian and his wife Heather have lived on Waimahaka's rolling hill country for more than 30 years. Ian is the third generation Smith to farm sheep and beef on the property. The farm has grown from 360 acres when his grandfather bought the land in 1927 to more than 1000 today.

When Ian and Heather's daughter and son-in-law showed an interest in coming on to the farm the decision was made two years ago to convert to dairying in the knowledge that sheep farming on the property couldn't sustain two families.

However along the way their son-in-law realised he really wanted to stay a dog and sheep man.

"We knew they were leaving before we really started the main bits of the conversion so we said 'this a family farm what do we want to do? We've got two choices, either sell or convert," and it was alot pig-headedness I suppose and not being finished with farming that drove us to carry on," Ian says.

Once the bank gave the heads up and hundreds of pages of resource consents were ticked off, the Smiths built a million dollar rotary milking shed, bought more than 400 cows, put in seven kilometres of laneways and got waterways and paddocks fenced off.

Sheep numbers have gone down from 5000 stock units to 1200.

The Smiths believe they've made the right decision to go milking but it's been a big learning curve for the couple and, after some initial staffing issues, finding a trustworthy and reliable farm manager has finally got the dairy operation running smoothly.

"All I can say is we've taken the best choices at the time and the future will prove if we are right or wrong".

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Fort McMurray Wild Fires Are Horror for Horses

A dashcam video of residents evacuating the Canadian city of Fort McMurray Fire  during a massive forest fire.

A dashcam video of residents evacuating the Canadian city of Fort McMurray Fire during a massive forest fire. Photo: SCEENSHOT/YouTube

The Clearwater Horse Club at Fort McMurray scrambled to find enough vehicles to evacuate over 100 horses, as fires sweeping through Northern Alberta, came close to the equestrian centre where they lived. Some horses that couldn't be loaded onto trailers were left to find their own way to safety.  They are now being captured by first response rescue teams.

Horse owner Christina Lush says they had to use whatever vehicles they could find at short notice and drive up to six hours away from Fort McMurray, a city surrounded by forests.

Christina Lush has no idea what she'll be looking at when she gets home, which could be three weeks from now, because there's been little video footage from exactly where she lives.  But looking behind as she was leaving town was "like an apocalypse".

For now she's staying hours away and has her horses and dogs with her.  At least she says "we're all together."

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Down to the Wire and Let's Get 'Em Down Safety Campaign

Shannon Carr Hill Country Helicopters Wanganui

Shannon Carr Hill Country Helicopters Wanganui Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Two campaigns, ‘Down to the Wire’, and ‘ Let’s Get ‘Em Down’,  are encouraging farmers to remove unsafe wires, often electric fence wires strung across a gully, from their farms.

Both campaigns are dedicated to a helicopter pilot, Peter Robb, who lost his life in a wire strike crash in the Wanganui region 18 months ago.

His daughter, Shannon Carr,  now has to run her father’s business, Hill Country Helicopters, full time, and she says whenever she gets the chance she talks to farmers and organisations about the need to lower wires to fence height.

She says her story is personal and seems to hit home with farmers.  It happened mid morning on October 28, 2014.

A reporter rang up asking if their firm had had an accident.  She said no, their helicopters were fine, but  looking at the spider tracking system realised her father's helicopter wasn't moving.  "I rang his cell phone, dad's phone, and his loader driver answered the phone, and I knew then something wasn't right because he always has his phone in the helicopter.... .he handed me over to who I thought was the farmer but it was a police officer and he said there has been an accident. Your father's been involved and a police officer's on his way to your house now."

It was while driving home she heard the story on the radio saying a pilot had been killed.

That same accident hit fellow pilot and friend Dean Lithgow hard.  He says he realised he'd never really educated farmers about wires.  They talked about them a lot, always went with a farmer to look at where they were on a farm, but never told them when they were a bit ropey.

He's personally funding a massive "Let’s Get ‘Em Down" campaign, saturating rural media, rural stores and events, with posters, fliers and chilly bags.  He has rugby legend Richie McCaw and racing driver Greg Murphy backing the advertising campaign.

Dean's sons Casey and Stafford are also right behind their father, producing a You Tube video highlighting how difficult wires can be to see on farms.   Casey says " we want our dad to be able to come home to the family every night, just like other dads."

Stafford, Dean and Casey Lithgow initiators of Let's Get 'Em Down campaign

Stafford, Dean and Casey Lithgow initiators of Let's Get 'Em Down campaign Photo: Andrea Lithgow

Click here to watch Dean and Casey Lithgow's video

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Regional Wrap

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Photo: 123rf.com

Glorious rain has fallen in parts of the North Island. In Canterbury, drought conditions continue to bite.

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