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From 15 cents to 140 years of dairy success

  • January 22, 2020
  • 4 min read

When the great great grandfather of Wairarapa dairy farmer Jason Christensen came to New Zealand he wouldn’t have imagined that 140 years later his family would still own and operate a farm he built from the ground up.

Hans Christensen emigrated from Denmark to New Zealand in 1874 at the age of 22, arriving with today’s equivalent of just 15 cents in his pocket. He found a job as a storeman in Featherston, and saved enough to buy 42 acres near Mount Bruce in 1879.

 

Hans and his wife Anna married in 1885

Hans set about buying and clearing adjoining land and by 1893 he had married (1885), had a son (Hans Henry born in 1887) and increased the property to 251 acres. The family hand milked 30 cows, first selling cream to a food company in Wellington and then later making their own butter and selling it to stores in Masterton.

Hans’ son took over running the farm in 1909, starting a succession journey that would see the farm pass through five generations of family ownership, with Hans’ descendants recently celebrating 140 years of farming the same property.

Hans’ great great grandson Jason has managed the farm since 2008, following a 15-year career with the Department of Conservation, including almost 12 years as a DOC ranger on Mana Island near Porirua. Jason and his father Henry milk 370 cows on a dairy platform of 153 hectares, with the farm a total of 527 hectares. Henry also developed and opened the Mt Bruce Pioneer Museum on the farm - a private collection of a wide range of New Zealand historical items, not just about farming.

Over the last ten years members of the sixth generation have been pitching in on the farm, including Jason’s second cousins and his three-year-old niece Ellie, whose favourite job is helping to feed the calves.

The Christensen clan gathered for the 140-year celebration
Ellie and her beloved calves

 

Jason says the property is an important focal point for the family.

“We’re all really proud that we have been able to carry on this legacy and even the family members who live in the city feel a strong connection to this land. It was great to get everyone together recently to celebrate the 140 years. Dad’s brother and sister were especially enthusiastic as this is where they grew up and there are so many good memories here.”

Obviously on-farm tech has come a long way since the late 1800s and the farm has kept up with the times. A ten-bail walkthrough cowshed was constructed in 1929 and in 1971, with his own hands, Henry built Wairarapa’s first rotary cowshed, and only the ninth in New Zealand.

Today the farm has a state-of-the-art 44-bail rotary milking shed, milking 41 cows at a time. It includes a sophisticated heat exchange system that heats water as it cools the milk, generating enough hot water to wash out the milking plant and vats twice a day.

The system was one of the factors noted by the 2014 Ballance Farm Environment Award judges, with the farm winning the energy excellence award and prizes for dairy farm management and stewardship.

Jason’s grandfather Douglas cutting the cake at the 100-year celebration

As well as the investment in technology, the environment is a big focus for the Christensen family. All of the farm’s waterways, including the milking platform’s ephemeral waterways, are fully fenced and planted, and nearly 19 hectares are covered by QEII covenants with another 32 hectares set to be covenanted later in the year.

Jason says his experience as a DOC ranger gives him a real appreciation for the environment and he still leads some tours for ‘Friends of Mana Island’, giving him a break from the farm but also chances to champion the dairy industry.

I enjoy the tours because the people you meet are into the outdoors, but they don’t know a lot about farming. When they find out I’m also actually a dairy farmer they ask a lot of questions, some of which are based on wrong assumptions, so I’m able to dispel some of the myths about dairy farming and provide some good PR for our industry.

Jason Christensen, Wairarapa dairy farmer