New Zealand Woman’s Weekly
I CALVED my own path
FARMING IS IN THIS WELLINGTON NANNY’S BLOOD!
Tahlia McGregor’s never quite sure how best to describe her occupation. During the week she’s a nanny, but come the weekend, she’s charging up hills with her cattle dog to stay in shape for the next time they find themselves steering a herd of cows into the milking shed.
A nanny/farmer is an unusual job combo and perhaps even more unique given the odds Tahlia has had to overcome.
Born on Auckland’s Waiheke Island, but raised in rural Manawatu, the now 26-year-old had childhood scoliosis, which causes an abnormal curve of the spine. It went undiagnosed until her first year of high school.
Forced to wear a brace to correct the S-shaped bend in her back, Tahlia was often in considerable pain and spent months off school. The only dog lover in a family who preferred cats, she spent much of her time at home wishing she had a canine companion.
Instead, friends’ parents’ farms became regular weekend haunts and her family made annual pilgrimages to the famous Shemozzle in Hunterville, in which shepherds and dogs are pushed to the limit across a Fear Factor- type course. Tahlia dreamed of one day taking part in the competition herself.
At 16, with her scoliosis under control, she left school and found a job relief milking on a farm in Bulls. “I started at around 5.30am and was milking just under 1000 cows, plus I was rearing calves, fencing, grubbing thistles, tractor work…
“There were farmers in my family, but way back. My great-great-grandparents on my mum’s side were farmers in Ireland, so it became a joke that the farming gene had popped back up in me,” she laughs.
Two years later, looking for a new challenge, Tahlia moved to a farm in the hill country bordering the Tararua Ranges. It was there she got her first puppy, Tam, a huntaway heading dog cross. They were inseparable. “She was way more than just a working dog.”
Tahlia hoped Tam would join her on her first attempt at the Shemozzle in October 2010, but fate was against her.
Six months before the start date, she badly dislocated her knee after getting stuck in mud while rounding up cows in a storm and spent the next three months on crutches.
The injury made her rethink her plans and she decided to take a working holiday in Europe.
Within a month, she’d landed a job as an aupair with a family in a small village just south of Munich in Germany.
“I didn’t speak any German. I looked up the basics, like ‘I’m lost, do you speak English?’ and I’d never touched a nappy in my life, so it was a spur-of-themoment thing.”
Leaving Tam was heartbreaking. “There were lots of tears, but I finally managed to find another farm to take her.”
Four years later, in 2014, Tahlia finally returned home and found a temporary farming job in Levin before her partner, Englishman Tim Hawker, joined her six months later. The pair moved to Wellington, where technical director Tim had scored work with Weta Digital and Tahlia found another nannying role.
She also got another puppy, a bearded collie huntaway cross called Flynn, who was at her side when she finally got to run the Shemozzle in 2015.
This time, nothing stopped her doing the race she’d set her heart on as a teenager – even having to carry a bull’s testicle in her mouth or crawling through a tunnel filled with animal intestines while wrapped in a burlap sack!
Exhilarated, she made immediate plans to enter again in 2016, but ongoing issues with her knee continued to plague her. Determined Flynn wouldn’t miss out – “he loved it as much as I did” – she talked a friend into doing it. “I have to admit, it was a bit of a proud mum moment,” laughs
Tahlia. “Watching Flynn felt like watching my kid running a race.”
Tahlia underwent major knee surgery in June and six months on, she’s tentatively back into training for next year’s Shemozzle.
Partner Tim is right behind her, joking that he’s fine about her wearing her gumboots to the supermarket occasionally.
“He’s always laughed at what he calls my ‘hillbilly-ness’,” grins Tahlia. “But he’s fully supportive of my love of the farm life.”