Thomas & Hannah Oats
‘Living the dream’ raising family on a dairy farm
Five-year-old Ellie Oats and her three-year-old brother Charlie spend their days running around the farm, learning to help mum and dad milk cows, and are surrounded by sheep, dogs, a goat, and even a miniature horse.
This is the dream for Thomas and Hannah Oats – raising their two children on a dairy farm. The young couple have spent the past six months running a 50/50 sharemilking property, in Kowhitirangi, and can't imagine living anywhere else.
Thomas believes life can only get better from here, as he sees the West Coast becoming the premiere place to be dairy farming in New Zealand.
“In the next 50, or even 100 years, the West Coast will be even more desirable than it is now, mostly because of our water,” says Thomas.
“There’s a lot of environmental constraints in other areas with waterways, but there’s no effects on our waterways here. It doesn’t get dry here either, and our water is a key reason why dairying is successful.
“We’ve got the water, and if you run your farm in the right manner with a low stocking rate, and low costs, you can continue to farm here for years to come.”
Thomas, 26, grew up on farms along the West Coast, while his wife Hannah, 24, learned the ropes after meeting Thomas as a teenager. They have worked on properties along the West Coast, and were contract milking on Thomas’ parent's farm in the Grey Valley when they decided to take the next step to 50/50 sharemiliking in Kowhitirangi, as they really liked the area.
The couple has a herd of 130 Friesian cows and milk two times a day, with their two children by their side.
"The kids are learning so much on the farm, not only about milking cows but how to be safe around vehicles and machinery," says Thomas. "Now that our daughter is off to school, it's shown us how fast they grow up, so we want to enjoy this time with them on the farm and teach them what we know."
The family has a genuine love for their animals – which they consider to be some of the friendliest around. As Hannah walks through the paddock, she is constantly greeted by her cows who are all keen for a pat; she knows most of them by name.
"All our cows have a personality and every cow has a story, we consider them all to be our friends," Hannah said. "We're really passionate about the cows, and it's nice to be able to farm like this."
The couple operate the small Kowhitirangifarm on their own, and have always dreamed of this life. Thomas expects small operations to stick around the West Coast for years to come.
“Smaller farms, below 500 cows, will always be around. I don’t see the bigger operations coming in because it doesn’t really suit the Coast, and there’s a lot to consider such as soil type – the more cows you have the more difficult it can be to farm.”
Despite running the farm with no staff, the couple doesn't consider farm life to be hard work.
"We always had the idea of a small operation where we don't need any staff," he said. "When you love what you do, it's not hard work – I have no problem milking cows until I'm 90-years-old."