New tune for piper in the paddock

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Joseph Williams is enjoying opportunities dairy farming in New Zealand offers. Photo Toni Williams

There’s a skirl of bagpipes as dairy farmer Joseph Williams stands in a field playing a tune to his captive audience.

The cows are unfazed and continue grazing.

Mr Williams learned to play the bagpipes during his primary school years in Scotland and since relocating to New Zealand for work opportunities he has taken up with the Ashburton Pipe Band.

“There is a strong music culture at school,” he said. The bagpipes were taken up in primary and secondary school, first learning finger movements on a practice chanter (similar to a recorder) before advancing to the bagpipes.

Mr Williams admits he wasn’t as committed to the bagpipes as he could have been through his teenage years and then flatting while at university in Aberdeen, Scotland.

He picked them up again in his early 20s, and brought his chanter with him to New Zealand.

He came to New Zealand for a holiday after graduating with honours in agriculture from Scotland Rural University College. He was interested in rural Kiwi life and New Zealand dairy farming – as well as seeing some of the tourist hot spots.

He spent six months travelling the country with a friend, made a quick visit to Australia then returned home to Scotland.

He eventually returned to New Zealand, along with his girlfriend, now fiancJennifer Martin, to take up a dairy role in Mid Canterbury. Miss Martin, who qualified as a teacher in Scotland, is a primary school teacher at Hampstead School.

The couple, both 27, have been in New Zealand for four years and have permanent residency.

They have had family members visit from the United Kingdom many times.

They have also had their wedding plans scuppered by Covid-19, twice. There were due to get married in Scotland in July, and then rescheduled to January 2021, but recent changes to gathering numbers of just 15 people in the United Kingdom for the next six months has forced them to cancel.

Quarantine costs and time were also a factor especially as they have just taken over contract milking for Mark and Pennie Saunders at their Balmaghie Farm, at Lagmhor.

It’s a step up from Mr Williams’ former manager role, which was also at the farm, and means being paid on herd production; they own some farm equipment and employ their own staff. They have two other full-timers and one calf-rearer.

Taking on the contract milking was a decision made easier by knowing the farm and milking potential of the cows, Mr Williams said.

The property, a new conversion completed in 2015, spans 200 hectares. They milk 700 cows in a 54 bail rotary shed.

In Tiree, an island with a population of 750 residents off the coast of Scotland where Mr Williams grew up, they have small crofts, like small scale farmlets.

Mr Williams used to visit his sister who was a manager on one of the crofts. There were around 35 beef cows and 120 sheep but no dairy cows.

He got dairy experience while studying at university when he worked on a small scale dairy farm milking 280 Ayreshire and other red and white cows in a 12-aside herringbone.

“It was a pretty big farm for the area,” he said.

They calved all year round and milked three times a day, at 5am, 1pm and 8pm, producing on average around 30 litres each a day, so Mr Williams picked up evening milkings during the week, and extra shifts during the weekends and holidays.

When they first arrived in Mid Canterbury, after being introduced by an agency, Mr Williams took up fixed term job opportunities before securing a permanent job.

Miss Martin volunteered at Hampstead School for experience, before gaining full time work, and worked at a cafe during that time.

They have seen a bit of the South Island as tourists but still have a lot to do, Mr Williams said.