Growing up on a sheep and beef farm in the small West Otago township of Tapanui, Luke Kane never thought for a moment he would one day be milking cows for a living.
But the saying is ‘never say never’ and that goes with never knowing what opportunities lie just around the corner.
When Luke left school he went to work for a local contractor and ended up staying for three or four years. Working mainly on a digger Luke spent a lot of time helping to convert sheep farms to dairy platforms.
“We’d go back to some of those farms a year later and they’d be building brand new houses and all sort of development – obviously the money was there. So I thought it was time to get out of working for someone else and start to work for myself.”
In November of 2008 Luke had a yarn to his parents and other family members about converting the original family farm, which had been in the family for 90 years, to dairy.
“Dad didn’t say too much for a while but rang me back about three weeks later and asked if I still wanted to do it – so we flew to the North Island, had a look through a few sheds and just got under way, starting the shed site on boxing day.”
Luke’s past experience in the saddle of a digger came in handy and a lot of the development work was done in-house, including the design of the farm layout.
The first season’s production was ‘09/’10 – Luke was just 21 and had the role of manager on the dairy platform. While Luke didn’t know a lot about cows he learned pretty quickly – often through life’s best teacher – mistakes.
“I did a couple of Primary ITO courses in the summer leading up to the start of the season and learned a lot that way. I had some good staff as well – they knew more than me and I learned off them.”
That was a decade ago now and in the intervening years Luke has been joined by his wife Nicole full time on the farm, along with two other full time staff and a brother and sister team who are part timers.
Establishing Riverview Sharemilking Ltd, Luke and Nicole’s role changed to low order sharemilking and four years ago they purchased the neighbouring property of 110ha, adding it to the milking platform, and entering into equity partnership with Luke’s parents.
The dairy farm is part of Kane Farms Ltd and lies just 7 kilometres from Tapanui, between the foot of the Blue Mountains and the Pomahaka River. Kane Farms also includes a sheep and beef operation, which is run in conjunction with the dairy unit.
The total area of both properties is 1000ha. Luke, Nicole and the team milk 720 cross breed cows off a milking platform of 244ha.
In total the farm is 380ha with the difference made up of steep south facing tussock country, a plantation of pine trees, an area set aside for young stock and a small piece for beef grazing.
Across the river, Luke’s father and younger brother look after the sheep and beef farm, which is also used for wintering the dairy herd.
Operating a totally closed system, biosecurity is of high importance to the Kane family, particularly with the threat of mycoplasma bovis.
“We are very proactive with biosecurity and soon as the whole thing was blowing up around Christmas time we got a heap of signs made up and printed so that any entrance on to the dairy unit you had to be quarantined coming in and out.”
What surprised Luke was the number of people who jumped to the wrong conclusion when the signs were put up—such was the emotion of the moment.
Luke says he has absolutely no regrets about going dairy farming and, if anything, with the benefit of hindsight he wishes the conversion had occurred much earlier.
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