Stewart & Shirley Rhind
Karamea Dairy Factory holds special memories for farming couple
Overlooking their 280 hectares of land and 112 cattle, Stewart and Sheryl Rhind reminisce on farming life in Karamea. The couple has kept the farm running for the third generation after joining Stewart’s parents on the property in 1992 when the Karamea Dairy Factory closed down.
Sheryl, originally from a dairying family in Taranaki, moved to Karamea in 1984 for a job at the factory as the senior lab technician.
Sheryl, 59, says milk testing in the 80s would nearly be the same as it is today, with several regulations on milk quality already coming into play – except that tests took a lot longer in those days.
“We didn’t have the same equipment to get tests done as quickly as they do today, a standard test might take us three days to get the results. But we had to ensure specifications were up to standards on all the products before it was exported.”
Meanwhile, her husband Stewart, 61, did a stint in the 1970s in the roller powder factory in town, and by the time Sheryl moved to Karamea, Stewart was a builder on various projects in the area, including working near the factory. It didn’t take long for their paths to cross.
“I remember that my furniture was being shipped down from the North Island and I asked my boss at the factory if he knew anyone that could help unload the truck. So he got the builders nearby to help, and that’s when I met Stewart,” says Sheryl.
“Little did I know that I had actually already met Stewart’s father, he was a director of the factory, and was on the interviewing panel when I applied for the lab job.”
Stewart’s family had always been involved with the factory, since not long after its opening in 1911. His grandfather George Rhind was a director from 1918-1950, and his father Doug from 1970-1987.
Sheryl spent eight years working in the factory laboratory and was there when it amalgamated with Westland Milk Products in the late 1980s, but the factory ended up closing in August 1992. Sheryl was one of four working in the lab at the time, while the factory had around 30 staff in total.
It was a natural move to full time farming for the couple, who went into partnership with Stewart’s parents after the factory closed. They ended up buying the entire farm in 1995, and 23 years later and the couple is farming a herd of 112 Ayrshire cattle, with milking starting bright and early at 5am every day.
While the property is the third generation in Stewart’s family, his great-grandparents moved to the area in the early 1900s to farm, making him a fourth generation farmer.
Stewart says farming just comes naturally, and he was helping out on the farm since he can remember.
“I started on the farm when the teacher went to my home and told my father to take me out of school,” says Stewart.
The couple has always strived to produce the best milk possible from their herd, and their hard work paid off when they were awarded first place for milk quality from Westland Milk Products during the 2001-2002 season.
Stewart and Sheryl have scaled back their cattle numbers these days, as the two of them run the entire operation on their own. At the farm’s peak, they had a herd of around 160 dairy cows, along with a few beef cattle.
The couple is now looking to sell their property to have more time for themselves. Sheryl says travelling is definitely on the cards, as they have a son living near Auckland, and one recently married in the UK with a baby on the way.
The couple has always enjoyed farming and the lifestyle of Karamea. As for the future of dairying on the West Coast, they are hopeful that Karamea will draw in more young dairy farmers, keeping the industry and community thriving.