Calvin and Catherine Payne are living the dream in West Melton. That’s if the dream is never being able to go on holiday because you’re working a full time job (Calvin) as well as working full time and then some on a lifestyle block (Catherine) which produces little if any income.
It may sound like a bit of a nightmare, but with almost no agricultural knowledge and a great love for their land and animals, this enterprising couple have developed something quite remarkable on a mere ten acres.
Living in the city once their children had grown up and moved on, but yearning for the kind of delicious rare breed bacon they were used to in their previous life in the UK, they decided to buy some land and grow their own.
“You can’t buy ten acres in the UK. You can buy 10,000 acres, or ¼ acre, that’s really the only two options,” says Calvin. “Here, there are thousands of people doing this across the plains, so we thought great, let’s do it.”
FINDING THE PERFECT PROPERTY
Discovering a property with everything already in place as well as a beautiful turn of the century house was the final motivation they needed, and they snapped it up. The house had been moved from Merivale but never finished, so extensive work was required before they could move in.
“Being in construction, I could sort a lot of it out myself,” says Calvin. “I got it rewired, replumbed and gibbed out in five months flat. It’s a beautiful old house and we were able to put our mark on it as well.”
Starting with Kunekune pigs and selling them as pets was an easy inroad. They quickly moved on to Devon Large Blacks from which they got their first taste of home kill bacon.
“It was just so delicious we thought we really need to ramp things up and try and share this,” says Calvin. “So rather than home kill, we started sending some pigs to an abattoir in Ashburton.”
Four years on, their piglet count is now up to 210 and they have expanded their rare breeds to Berkshires, Tamworth, Wessex Saddlebacks and Duroc, selling pork products as well as weaners.
BRANCHING OUT INTO HIGHLAND CATTLE
Such a wide and interesting range of pigs would probably be enough for the average lifestyler, but this couple are far from average. Always up for a new challenge, they arrived home one day with a Highland cow and calf after falling in love with them at the Christchurch A&P show.
There followed some swift research and planning. They joined the New Zealand Highland Cattle Society which supports and promotes breeders and DNA tests animals to help keep bloodlines pure. Members can buy and sell animals on their website.
“We imported a bull from the North Island and have been selling their offspring,” says Calvin. “They’re so cute, as soon as I post a photo of the calves, it goes crazy. We are just producing breeding stock, we’re not producing meat with the Highlands.
KEEPING IT NATURAL
“With the cattle and the pigs, all we’re trying to do is maintain the breeds and do something nice and natural. We have a rotation going to keep the parasites down and we don’t inject or vaccinate if we can help it.”
They feed the pigs pumpkin seeds for worming from their own home grown pumpkins and spray a seaweed product on the pasture. No fertilisers, no chemicals, no nitrates.
Calvin and Catherine have Angora goats for the fleece, and a handful of other goats for their milk and meat, which they consume themselves. They also run a small herd of Wiltshire sheep. With a self-shedding fleece, they are very low maintenance and great for meat.
Khaki Campbell ducks are another popular creature among lifestylers. With several hatchings per year, Calvin and Catherine are able to sell all they can produce, as well as their eggs. A couple of dairy cows and a brood of chickens round off this amazing menagerie.
FARMING WITH HEART COMES NATURALLY
Not to forget Ebony, the couple’s beloved black Labrador of course. After losing a leg to cancer, they were told she may only have three months to live. Two and a half years later she is bouncing around, a picture of health.
“She’s the most expensive animal on the property,” smiles Calvin.
Sitting on their front porch is a box with a Khaki Campbell duckling inside.
“He’s got a sore leg,” Catherine tells me. “We’re just giving him some time away from the others so he doesn’t have to jostle for food. He keeps getting flipped over by the others and can’t get up again.”
“We know it’s not commercially viable to take care of the weakest ones, but we’re not commercial. I even end up helping them pick their way out of the shells sometimes.” Calvin admits. “I just can’t help myself.”
“We’ve got no dream, no plan, except to make nice bacon. We made some nice bacon, decided to share it and the cows are a cute add on. My wife loves the goats because they’ve got a great character and the Wiltshires are a nice, easy breed. We can’t go away on holiday, we can’t do lots of things and it can get a bit fraught at ten o’clock at night when someone’s not well.
“But we’re lifestylers and it’s just what we do.”