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

Latitude Magazine - - CONTENTS - WORDS Anne Gastinger IMAGES Anne & Martin Gastinger

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.

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