Our Way of Life /
Straddling the ridgeline between Cass and Cosair Bay on the Port Hills of Banks Peninsula and boasting panoramic views across Lyttelton Harbour and out to Quail Island, Otaranui is a picturesque 31-hectare working goat farm and home to Jozefa Wylaars a
Goat farming on Banks Peninsula
Otaranui (‘the high place’ in Te Reo) came onto the market 10 years ago, Jozefa Wylaars was nine months pregnant with her and partner Phil Garings’ first child Nydia. Out looking for a property large enough to accommodate a vegetable garden and a couple of fruit trees, they happened to notice the ‘for sale’ sign hanging from the farm gate. The purchase was a rushed affair, with Nydia only three weeks old when they signed the sale deeds at auction. It was May 2009. The property came with a shed, quad bike and 40 goats. The earthquakes came a year later.
The February 2011 tremors dislodged boulders Jozefa recalls as ‘the size of cars from the cliff face, which bounced in erratic trajectories across the property taking out boundary fences, the shed and caravan’. Their goats escaped but were later found unharmed near the summit road. Friends corralled them while emergency fencing repairs were undertaken.
Today protective engineering work secures some rock faces on the property, but Jozefa is mindful of the boulders littering the farm in the same way many of us assess old building facades should the earth start rumbling again.
While both Jozefa and Phil have carved careers in the IT sector, coming back to the land was a homecoming of sorts. Jozefa grew up on her parents’ small farm in Marshland Road, Christchurch and Phil’s student years were spent working holidays on farms around his hometown of Timaru. The couple divide their workload with Jozefa shouldering responsibility for the day-to-day management of the farm while Phil maintains his IT business, assisting on the property in his spare time.
Understanding the hillside property and their animals’ needs has been a gradual learning process with many adjustments. Early on they made the non-negotiable decision to not use herbicides or pesticides on their farm and have upheld this principle. ‘Chemical residues and ecological by-kill does not justify their use,’ says Jozefa. ‘Many years of dense broom cover has resulted in a soil that has a deep wormfilled humus layer. Our volcanic soils are full of life.’ Instead of anti-parasitic medications the goats and cattle are treated with natural products such as apple cider vinegar, molasses, diatomaceous earth and mineral supplements like selenium.
To complement the farm’s established grass and clover pastures, the family, together with the various woofers who frequently stay at the homestead have planted thousands of chicory plants and tree lucerne. These plants, Jozefa explains, ‘complement a huge range of wild plants growing on the farm: dock, plantain, yarrow, nettle, comfrey and elderberry. Many farms consider them weeds, but these plants provide a rich ecology for insects, bacteria, fungi and our livestock. Our animals forage on tens of different plants daily, all providing nutrient variety which aids their good health, enhances flavour and avoids chemical residue.’
The farm stocks and crossbreeds two goat varieties: the South African Boer and Saanen, a European dairy breed. Mindful of Otaranui’s climatic and soil conditions their selective breeding programme is geared to produce goats endowed with the Saanens’ ability to digest grass combined with the Boers’ robust physique.
Warmed by the sun, the gouged basalt rock formations littered across the farm’s upper slopes are favoured daylight resting places for the nanny goats and kids. However, the weather here can change abruptly, with easterly, southerly and northwester gales howling over 110 km an hour, a common
occurrence on these exposed slopes. During goat kidding season the small loafing shelters and numerous oak and elm trees dotted around the property offer variable protection from the accompanying rain and wind chill. The nanny goats instinctively understand their kids’ survival hinges on their hasty descent to the lower sheltered valley. Timing is critical. Jozefa recalls, ‘One nanny was at the heights with her little ones when a southerly rolled in. She managed to steer the kids down into the valley but they ran out of time. I found her down at the sheds; both kids had died only metres away.’ In these wretched moments Jozefa admits to phoning Phil crying, ‘I can’t stand this anymore.’
Frail or abandoned kid goats are cared for by the couple’s children, Nydia, 10 and Edwin, eight, both adept with bottle feeding and improvising makeshift pens out of cardboard boxes which contain the kids in the homestead’s lounge. These hand-reared kids are later rehomed as pets and companion animals on lifestyle blocks.
The broom-strewn pastures produced ideal fodder for the goats. That all changed in 2015 when ECan released the broom gall mite ( Aceria genistae) to eradicate this pest plant.
Its effectiveness wiped out their broom cover forcing them to reduce goat herd numbers and consider how best to utilise the grass pasture that was freed up by the broom’s demise. Observing the impact their homekill cattle was having on the land, they introduced a smaller framed lowline cattle breed. The added bonus of grazing the cattle and goats in rotation has improved pasture quality and soil. ‘We believe it has aided soil biodiversity and reduced unwanted parasites,’ says Jozefa.
When challenges arise like how to apply splints on a kid goat’s broken leg, selecting grass seed, even the need for animal culling, Jozefa’s trusted and valued mentor is her father Trudo Wylaars, whose lifetime of farming experience and knowledge in animal husbandry she draws on. With this support and increasing experience, Jozefa has grown more confident with the farm’s diverse tasks.
By the time their second child was born, the couple had built their home on the property. Jozefa pinpoints the moment she morphed from apprentice to farmer to a specific moment: ‘I had Edwin in the backpack and Nydia helping in the shed. There were 15 kid goats to tag and castrate and I did it alone,’ she smiles proudly.
Being the goats’ matchmaker, midwife, nurse and nutritionist goes hand in hand. The task of euthanising an old goat in order to prevent the spread of internal parasites is an entirely different game and one that challenges Jozefa. ‘As the goats age and weaken they pick up parasites and spread their larvae throughout the farm soil. I feel guilty about culling them and have sleepless nights over it. In the end it’s about prioritising my animals’ health. If they are suffering I’ve made the decision to cull the animals myself.’
Looking for further ways to diversify and generate income from the farm, the couple have built a standalone flat on an exposed knob of Otaranui’s ridgeline.
This offers tourists wanting a farm stay experience close to Christchurch uninterrupted views across the harbour and
Port Hill surrounds. It is a winning combination. Guests are encouraged to explore Otaranui during their stay, with Nick the sheep dog happy in his role as their guide and companion.
As well as suppling two Lyttelton restaurants, Sherpa Kai and The Commoners, Jozefa sells her goat meat on a quarterly basis at the Lyttelton Saturday food market. Beef sales are undertaken on a bimonthly basis beginning with butcher and close family friend Brent Noye who prepares the meat. Jozefa then packs the boxes and makes home deliveries around the Port Hills and Christchurch area.
Coming from a farming background ensures a degree of realism about this lifestyle’s challenges. They’ve experienced washed out driveways, culverts disappearing, slips and under runners and the loss of newborn kids. One steels oneself for these moments. But the monumental fallout from challenges the size of an earthquake or a miniscule mite is another matter altogether.
Jozefa confesses, ‘I sometimes question whether or not the stress is worth it. The pressure is on me to keep the farm going. There are times I question whether I want to do this anymore. I’ve said to Phil – let’s go live in a small property somewhere. But then I realise we have so many kids born that are thriving, beautiful, contented and healthy cattle and satisfied customers. The last 10 years of getting to know the property, our animals, aspects of breeding and the annual cycle of the seasons has taught us so much. I’m still really excited about the farm and what we have created here.’
Warmed by the sun, the gouged basalt rock formations littered across the farm’s upper slopes are favoured daylight resting places for the nanny goats and kids.
At Otaranui Farm, overlooking Lyttelton Harbour. Jozefa with Fudge, one of her SaanenBoer cross goats.
TOP / Nydia with sheep dog Nick. MIDDLE / Jozefa hand feeding her goats some of their favourite garden greens. ABOVE / Jozefa advises customers at Lyttelton Farmers Market on which goat meat cuts are best suited for curries or roasts.
LEFT / Jozefa and Phil together with their children, Nydia and Edwin.