Camaraderie of rural communities a drawcard for Mid Canty farmer

Camaraderie of rural communities a drawcard for Mid Canty farmer
PHOTOS: Mick O’Connor with sons Freddie and Flynn and out checking the herd at Terrace Farm.

Reflecting on his passion for farming, the answers come quick and fast for Mid Canter-bury dairy farmer Mick O’Connor.
Living within a rural community and everything that goes with that is first and foremost.
“Everyone looks after their neighbours and if there’s ever a bad injury, people get inundated with so much food they don’t know what to do with it. There’s a real community care aspect to farming.”
Mick suggests that an agricultural career is unique in that farmers work closely together sharing ideas, new and different ways of doing things.
There is no competitive advantage—just the same common goals of growing grass, animal health, environmental care and the production of milk.
In a rapidly changing world, having an open mind and being adaptable are important attributes, particularly with difficult labour markets.
The ability to progress from small beginnings through your own willingness to put the hard yards in is a key benefit of choosing a farming career.
Mick recalls the first dairy farm that he worked on when he left school.
The farmer was aged 27, hadn’t come from a farming background but had worked hard to get where he was – a lesson Mick has never forgotten in the 20 years that he has been dairy farming.
Except for a six month working holiday in the United Kingdom with wife Kirsten, Mick has spent the last 14 years working for large South Island farming company Dairy Holdings Ltd.
After working as Farm Manager from 2005 to 2009, Mick and Kirsten were offered the opportunity to Contract Milk on Dairy Holdings’ Terrace Farm when they returned from overseas in January of 2010.

Camaraderie of rural communities a drawcard for Mid Canty farmer
Mid Canterbury farmer Mick O’Connor with wife Kirsten and son Flynn.

 
South of Dunsandal in an area called Bankside, Terrace Farm is a fully irrigated 278ha property and home to an 1100-cow herd.
Starting with 15 cows of their own, Mick and Kirsten purchased 1000 cows over the following four years.
“We saved money by cutting the cloth pretty thin,” says Mick.
“We had just enough gear to get the job done and nothing was new—we didn’t spend a lot on depreciating assets. We increased production every year on the property enabling us to accumulate surplus cash, which we invested into cows.”
Owning just under half the herd in their third season on Terrace Farm and transitioning to low order share milking, Mick and Kirsten purchased the remainder of the herd when the payout was healthy, going 50:50 the following season
“The next two dairy seasons weren’t so good. But it reaffirmed to us that our farming system was resilient. We don’t have a lot of imported feed and that takes a lot of cost straight out of the system. Our main driving focus is profit and not production. We always question what we do and why we’re doing it –is it profitable for us and the farm owners?”
Four years ago Dairy Holdings offered Mick the opportunity of providing supervision to twelve of the company’s other farms in addition to his normal 50:50 operations.
“We were pretty honoured but wanted to ensure that our own farm wouldn’t suffer as a result. Contract milkers run all the other farms so they’re not new to farming. It’s more around providing support than anything, so we agreed.”
Mick says Kirsten plays a pivotal role in the farm operation.
In addition to helping out with calf rearing and relief milking when required, she also takes responsibility for the ever-increasing administrative work from HR and payroll through to accounts.
“It’s definitely a team effort. I couldn’t do what I do without her.”
With a staff of four, Mick has empowered the team to make decisions – an initiative that he says is working very well.
“Because I’m not always there they need to be able to make on-farm decisions. We catch up once a week to discuss what has been happening and what could have been done differently. When I’m on farm with the overalls on I’m a worker and not the boss.”
With two young sons, Flynn – 5 and Freddie – 1, the farm provides the opportunity to spend time with the family as they grow up.
“Flynn loves the farm. He loves coming out on the farm with me, sitting in the tractor or watching the digger – he’s never too far away from the action.”
Farm ownership over the three years is well in the O’Connor’s horizon.
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