Caroline Smith: Girls Can Do Anything
We have been visiting so many inspiring rural women recently, and we thought we’d add another to the list. Caroline Smith is the farm co-owner, with her husband Geoff, and the head operator of Chipinga: a 250-hectare deer, cattle and cashmere farm located near Te Pōhue in Hawke’s Bay. With her girls can do anything mentality, Caroline has two daughters who are both fond of becoming farmers and walking in their mother’s footsteps one day.
Growing up on dairy farms around the South Island, Caroline was constantly surrounded by cattle with both of her parents being 50/50 sharemilkers. When Caroline was younger, she chose relief milking over an eight-hour supermarket shift – milking for three hours in the morning and three hours at night. It was a worthwhile job that paid a good amount. Eldest of four siblings, Caroline always enjoyed being on the farm with her mum and dad and has instilled that same passion in her two daughters: Holly, 9, and Clara, 6.
Before starting her farming career in July 2014, Caroline worked as a travel agent and spent a few years overseas in Ireland and Scotland with her husband Geoff before deciding to lease his parent’s farm, Chipinga. Originally a sheep, beef and deer farm, they decided to transition to deer, cattle and cashmere. They weren’t too interested in farming sheep so they replaced them with goats for a bit of fun. With Geoff being a full-time Electrician, Caroline predominantly runs the farm herself, getting her father-in-law to help when needed. Her eldest daughter Holly also likes helping out in the cattle yards but both girls have to wait until they’re a bit older to work with the deer due to their size. In peak season, Geoff will usually take a week off work to help Caroline out in the deer shed.
Chipinga is made up of mostly hill country with the exception of one small flat paddock. On the property, they have 375 hinds, 18 stags, 200 South Devon cattle and a small herd of 100 cashmere goats (50 mixed-age does). Caroline usually gets 300-500 grams of cashmere fleece per goat once a year and, depending on the micron, the value of cashmere is around $110-$150 per kilogram. They have also just recently cleaned out their woodshed so that they can house a few pet kids for their daughters.
"The enjoyable thing about farming is that you're doing something different every day; whether it's cattle, goats or deer, you've got to pre-plan six months to a year in advance. You're already looking at the stags that are coming through to see what you're going to buy in a couple of years' time. With the cattle, I'm looking overseas for semen to try something completely new,” Caroline said.
“I was at the local deer industry discussion group recently and there was a soil scientist and you just learn so many new things. Going to these little events, joining groups and meeting a lot of different people, you get to learn so much. I love picking up little things from everyone to improve what I’m doing here,” she added.
Their fawns are finished for venison around April/ May through Deer Industry New Zealand (DINZ) Passion2Profit (P2P) programme where finishers will take all of her fawns without fail every year. On the farm, Caroline uses a drone to make their operation run more efficiently, something her local P2P programme showcased at the Passion2Profit conference. It’s also a good thing during fawning so the hinds aren’t being disturbed. Velvetting also takes place on farm with Caroline tending to her 18 stags. She just recently got her velvetting ticket through The National Velvetting Standards Body (NVSB) and is audited yearly by a vet and then at random by a national auditor. Caroline doesn’t have a crushing system on farm which enables the stags to be awake and numbed whilst velvetting. Instead, she puts the stags to sleep, numbing the area to cut the velvet off before waking them up again.
Caroline balances farm life and motherhood with ease. Her usual day starts with getting the girls ready for school and dropping them at the bus which parks at the bottom of their driveway. Once she’s sorted the children, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. is her farm time. When Holly and Clara are not in school, they usually shadow Caroline wherever she goes – whether it’s out on the farm or tagging along to a board meeting for Hawke’s Bay Deer Farming Association. Both Geoff and Caroline are involved in their Children’s local school. Geoff is the board chair and Caroline is co-chair of the parent-teacher association (PTA), so they both devote a good chunk of their time to playing an important role in their children's education and upbringing.
“I've brought the girls up with a ‘girls can do anything that boys can do’ mentality. Plus, we can do one more thing that boys cannot do, we're able to grow another human so we're better than boys – girls really can do anything. A motto that I teach the girls is – it's probably a bit harsh but – if it's not bleeding, keep going; always shut the gate, or even better, leave the gate as you found it; and don't stop trying,” Caroline said.
Caroline’s local Goldpine store is Hastings where her and Geoff have a good relationship with Tristan. They purchase all of their fencing products from the store. “Geoff gets it all sorted with what posts and netting we need for the farm. We can always give Goldpine a call and it’ll be waiting at the store so we can just throw it on the back of the truck and come back home,” Caroline said.
When Caroline finds spare time, she loves reading and spending time with her family. Being involved with the school PTA and Hawke’s Bay Deer Farming Association also keeps her busy. “Work isn’t really work some days. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll never have to work a day in your life,” she said.
Long-term goals for Chipinga are to continue growing their South Devon stud so that they can start selling bulls every year. Caroline wants to The Tuatara proving its worth amongst the weather continue to raise great fawns and improve their average weaning weight. She also wants to increase their supply of cashmere fleece and improve its micron. Holly and Clara are already huge advocates of farming and Caroline said once they get old enough, they can fight over who wants to take over the farm as they are already very interested in running the operation.
“Showcasing more women in farming is a good idea because we're there anyway, it's just that we don't seem to get as much attention as the males. In this area, there are so many female farmers but you don’t hear about them – all managing and working on family farms. In our little area here, there are four women farmers off the top of my head, so there's so many of us out there but we, as women, keep our heads down and get the job done,” Caroline concluded.