Wife, mother, manager, wool classer…
Patience and having courageous conversations have proved valuable qualities in the 16 years Tracy Paterson has been a farmer’s wife – qualities Tracy attributes to her late mother-in-law and mentor.
Tracy emphasises how much she enjoys what she does on the family’s Central Otago farm. She says that sometimes it can be a bit stressful – but that’s life.
“I think that sometimes you have to ride those little storms and everything works out for a reason – I’m a firm believer in that. When one door closes, another opens, but sometimes you just have to figure out where that door is.” Tracy and husband Andrew run Matakanui Station, near Omakau.
It’s a family farm bought by Andrew’s grandfather in 1958.
The 8700-hectare, high country farm is steep country, rising from 280 metres to an altitude of 1600m. It’s beautiful country a stone’s throw from the path of the Otago Rail Trail.
The station runs 19,020 polwarth sheep – 1000 stud ewes, 9500 commercial ewes, 7500 hoggets, 1000 wethers, 20 rams – and 850 polled hereford cattle.
Tracy grew up on her parents’ four-acre block on Waiheke Island, with a horse and a couple of sheep.
That was the extent of her farming experience. She moved to Dunedin to study anthropology and management, and met young Andrew Paterson, who was studying accountancy.
“After university, Andrew and I went travelling around Europe before coming back to Andrew’s parents’ farm,” says Tracy.
“There wasn’t much for me to do on the farm because Andrew’s parents were here as well. So I went and picked fruit for a month or two, then worked for Checkett McKay Lawyers in Alexandra doing office work.”
One thing led to another and Tracy ended up completing a law degree while also having a family.
Once qualified, she juggled the demands of being mother, wife, lawyer and trying to do the farm accounting and administration. She also managed to add another child to the family.
When Andrew’s parents retired, the couple took over running the farm and Tracy got to the point where juggling competing demands was no longer possible.
“I said to Andrew, ‘Look I’m coming home – I’m going to do this job because otherwise we would have to employ someone to do my job on the farm’. So that’s what we did and I’ve been working on the farm for about four years now.”
While Tracy’s ‘day job’ on the farm might be managing the financial side of things, office administration and stud recording, that belies everything else that happens either side and in between.
“I’m a qualified wool classer, class the majority of sheep, and help out at tailing time. I help out quite a bit on the farm, but I don’t have an actual on-farm role. I can think that I have the day planned to do something in the office and the next minute I’m out on the farm doing something or driving into town to pick something up.” She says life on the farm can be stressful.
Financial pressures, making sure the animals are well fed and looked after, general business running and time. Time, she says, is probably the biggest stressor of all.
“It’s crazy busy around here. We never seem to have much downtime. It can be very tiring being a farmer’s wife. So we make a point of going on holiday. That’s a really important part of how we operate as a team.”
Tracy recently completed an Agri-Women’s Development Trust programme, ‘Understanding Your Farming Business’. She says it was a turning point for her.
“One of the great things was sharing experiences with other women on the course. We could talk quite openly about different pressures and stresses from the female perspective. The amazing thing was that every woman in that room had different stories to tell and what they found were pressures. I know I’ve been very lucky.”
Tracy says it’s a matter of being open and honest with people, and being brave with discussions.
“My mother-in-law worked on the theory that if something was going wrong she would go straight to the source and have a polite but brave conversation.
“She and I would have very open and frank conversations which in hindsight taught me a lot, which I am thankful for.