Jack Mitchell

Still farming the old-fashioned way

Old-timer Jack Mitchell's Cronadun farm is like walking back in time. It uses the same straight line milking, or 'walk-through shed' method that his father James used on the farm back in the early 1920s.

The Mitchell farm is one of the oldest established dairy operations on the West Coast and the tried and true technique continues to work well for 80-year-old Jack, who runs the operation with his son John.

Jack's father was focused solely on cream production in the early years, with the cream collected each day for the butter factory in Reefton.

The Cronadun Butter Factory was directly across the road from the Mitchell farm. It was in existence prior to 1906 and operated up until 1918, when it was bought by the Golden Coast Dairy Company and closed down.

The Golden Coast Dairy Company ran its own butter factory in nearby Reefton.
"My father ran a herd of 35 cows and the cream was collected in cans by the butter factory trucks. My uncle Jack drove the butter truck for over 35 years, and then my brother Jimmy took over driving for eight years or so."

Jack Mitchell has worked on the farm his entire life and in time developed the land with his brother Jimmy after taking over the farm operation when their father died in 1964.

"We still use the walk-through shed for milking and it works well for us and the cows. The cows come in from the paddocks, come into the yard and walk straight up and stand in line. We milk 14 at a time. They get used to it and are as quiet as mice -- they know you and we know them all. We don't even have to put the chain around them. Each cow spends about five minutes with the cups on, and once finished I give the pipe a push and the door opens and the cow walks back out and heads up to the paddock. We haven't even got a dog, it's that easy.

"My son John and I can milk our 70 of our mainly Friesian/Jersey-cross herd in one hour 10 minutes. We milk the herd both morning and night.

"Dad was milking 35 cows using a Gain milking machine, which was driven off a steam engine in the earlier years."

The milk went into a vat and then through to a separator bowl, which spun at a good rate.

"I remember the system well -- I used to use it, too. The cream would be chucked to the outside and then go down into a cooler and then into a cream can. It was hard work carrying those cans as they were pretty heavy. The truck, which was owned by Golden Coast, used to come and collect the cream cans and take them down to Reefton and the skim milk, which was left, was then fed to the pigs or calves on the farm.

"Dad had the first tractor in the Inangahua Valley, a 1917 Fordson. It was started on petrol and then after 10 minutes switched across to run on kerosene."

by Paul McBride