Dairy farmers keep Karen’s dream alive
Dairy farmers are keeping a dream alive for Karen Chapman, who grew up on a dairy farm in the small Waikato settlement of Otaua and has only ever wanted to milk cows.
Her dream looked pretty hopeless because by the time Karen was 14, both her Dad and Mum, Noel and Olive Chapman, had died, the farm had changed hands, and in 1978 Karen had moved into IHC residential care in Pukekohe.
Karen has been supported by IHC and IDEA Services for more than 40 years but also by a network of dairy farmers in and around Pukekohe, many of them participants in the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme fundraising scheme, who raise animals and donate the proceeds to IHC.
This year, the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme marks its 40th anniversary by celebrating all the farmers who have made lives better for people with intellectual disabilities in their communities. Over those 40 years, the scheme has raised $40 million.
Moving into town did nothing to alter Karen’s love of animals and her desire to milk cows. Local farmers, once they knew of her love of dairy farming, welcomed Karen to their farms, into their milking sheds, and encouraged her to lead their best pens of animals to judging at the Franklin A&P show.
One farmer even provided her with her own cow which she was able to keep at his farm, where Karen would brush it and feed it. “It was a jersey cow. She died in her sleep,” Karen says. “Beauty was her name.” To be clear though, jersey cows aren’t her favourites. What Karen would really like is her own Ayrshire cow, a Scottish breed of red and white cattle.
The Franklin A&P Show at the Pukekohe Showgrounds is the highlight of Karen’s year and she is disappointed that it was cancelled for the second year running this year because of the pandemic. She is now banking on seeing off the virus by next year. “Just kick it out the door,” she says.
Karen has milked all over the northern Waikato and South Auckland districts.
Karen has milked all over the northern Waikato and South Auckland districts. A long-time family friend, Glen Lee, has driven her around the farms for as long as anyone can remember. Karen says she is “a good friend to me, I have known her for a long, long time”.
Glen and her husband Bill used to be painters and decorators at Otaua. Karen’s mother Olive would visit Glen for a cup of tea at school pick-up and drop-offs and Glen recalls that when Olive and Karen moved into Pukekohe, they still used to visit her. “Karen and her mother would actually walk from Pukekohe to Otaua, which was about 20 kilometres. They missed Otaua.”
Glen now collects Karen in Pukekohe and drives her the 20 kilometres to Otaua and back. “It gives her such a lot of pleasure and it’s no skin off my nose. And it gives me the same amount of pleasure,” Glen says.
Glen would call farmers to see if Karen could visit. “It seemed to work best with the Goodwrights.”
Karen used to milk for Syd and Jenny Goodwright on the home farm, now owned by their son Tom Goodwright. These days Karen milks for Syd and Jenny’s daughter Becky Payne and her husband Mike on their farm not far away. Another sister Hannah farms close by too with her husband Trevor Turner. All of them are donors to the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme and know Karen well.
“We know she loves farming, and she will help wherever she can,” Jenny says.
Syd and Jenny have been donating calves – real and virtual – to the Calf Scheme for more than 30 years, and for half of that time Jenny has worked as a canvasser for the scheme, visiting around 50 local farmers each season to encourage them to pledge calves.
“I am really lucky because I have got a lot of farmers in the district like me who want to keep supporting the Calf Scheme. How lucky are we that we have had four children and 15 grandchildren who have no disabilities,” Jenny says.
Syd says it’s about supporting people who aren’t as lucky. “There would be a lot of people who give who are loyal to IHC, but a lot of people who are loyal to Jenny as well,” he says.
These days Karen helps out every fortnight in the milking shed at Becky and Mike’s farm at Otaua. Becky says she and Karen have settled on a routine that works for both of them. “She is cool to milk with. I always try to ask her different things but, when she is in the shed, she is totally focused on the cows and brings the conversation back to milking.”
She says Karen likes to put the cups on. “She can see when they have milked out properly. She is good at hosing down too.”
Karen says she used to help her Dad milk around 100 friesian-jersey-cross cows after school.
Karen says she used to help her Dad milk around 100 friesian-jersey-cross cows after school. Now she is milking cows on farms with bigger herds and more complex and automated rotary cow sheds. “I have been doing it for a long time now,” she says.
And there’s a new challenge waiting for Karen from June this year. Becky and Mike have bought a bigger farm and will double their milking herd from 200 to 400 friesians, swapping their herring bone shed for a rotary shed. The land is coming back to the family. The farm is Syd’s original family farm. His grandfather bought it nearly 100 years ago.
It isn’t just dairy farmers who Karen counts among her friends. She spends time helping Lisa Kendall on her farm. Lisa, a high-flyer in the Young Farmer of the Year competition, is a farming contractor and sheep milker, farming east-friesian ewes with her partner James on 20 hectares at Karaka, 20 minutes north of Pukekohe.
Lisa, who in 2020 won the Northern FMG Young Farmer of the Year competition and is competing again this year, was introduced to Karen in 2017 through the IHC Volunteer Friendship Programme – an initiative paid for by IHC Fundraising, including the Calf Scheme.
IHC National Fundraising Manager Greg Millar says the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme gives IHC an important connection to the rural sector and has evolved along with changes to the sector over 40 years, particularly as smaller farms and local relationships have given way to larger dairy units.
Legendary All Black Sir Colin Meads, a Waikato beef farmer and supporter of the Calf Scheme from its start, encouraged beef and sheep farmers to get involved too.
As technology continues to change the farming landscape, farmers began profiling their favourite cows and best milkers on Twitter and are able to donate virtual animals along with the real ones.
“We are incredibly grateful to the many farmers who have supported us over the years – some of them down through generations,” Greg Millar says.