Sandy and Terry Cooper were born in England, met in Singapore and now have a successful small farm in Upper Hutt. Sandy works in the computer industry while Terry now works full time on their land.
Block: 17 acres in the Akatarawa valley about, 40km north of Wellington.
Background: Both Sandy and Terry were born in England. Sandy joined the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRENS) and was based in Singapore when she met Terry, who was also in the Navy. After leaving their respective services, Sandy and Terry lived for a time in Auckland before work drew them to Wellington.
First block: Sandy wanted a couple of acres to keep a cow, a pig and some chooks. The place that Terry found was not quite that - 17 acres and a house that needed some work, however, the beauty of the setting persuaded Sandy and they moved in fourteen years ago. They are still there...
Stock/Crop: Blueberries and emus. When Sandy and Terry moved onto the property there was an acre of blueberries, less than a month until the blueberry season started and they had no idea of what was involved. Half a ton of blueberries later, they were frantically trying to find people to buy them. "It took several years to educate people about blueberries," said Sandy, "we produced recipe sheets to encourage interest."
After trying sheep and cattle - (and overstocking like so many new lifestylers) Sandy and Terry went to the National Fieldays and saw information about farming emus. They contacted people who were already farming emus in New Zealand and found out everything they could. After two years of research, they decided to take the plunge. Initially it was a breeder market just selling chicks, but now the meat market has developed in New Zealand. Now after five years, they have 76 birds. Theoretically 120 emus can be kept to the hectare. They like to eat pasture containing plantain, chicory and clover. This is supplemented with assorted grains - a special recipe mixed by Massey University Feed Unit. They also, surprisingly, respect normal fencing (barbed wire and electric is definitely a no-no however) but boundary fences should be deer fencing ideally. Emus mate for life and can live to a ripe old age.
Initially against the idea of PYO (Pick Your Own), it is now one of the many attractions that brings visitors to their property. Bluebank Blueberry & Emu farm is open to the public, seven days a week except in winter when it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Visitors can pick their own blueberries, visit the emus, walk amongst wild flowers, or buy from a wide range of blueberry, emu and other products in the farm shop. It is also the home of Fernlea Pottery with a selection of pottery from pot plants to dinner sets. About three acres of wildflowers were sown this year as an added attraction, a glorious meadow popular with older visitors.
The Akatarawa Valley has a number of attractions and is actively promoted by the small businesses in the valley along with the Upper Hutt Information Centre. Sandy and Terry hosted some of the Scots Guards and the Lord Provost of Edinburgh while they were in the country for the Wellington Tattoo. School trips, senior citizen clubs and other coach trips are regular visitors.
Block vs. Job: When Sandy and Terry were both working off the property, it was very hard. "We would feed out, go to work, come home and feed out again" Sandy said. Last year Terry gave up his off-property work to concentrate on the farm. Sandy believes that, while she can't afford to give up work at the moment, that a 17 acre property could support a couple.
Problems: Initially, it was lack of knowledge and trying to do too much at once. They then joined the Association of Smallfarmers and networked with other people who owned small blocks. Visits to other small farms and a variety of knowledgeable guest speakers helped a great deal. It also taught us our legal obligations - for example you can't just own a cow now and that's it - there are the TB regulations to be followed, it applies to small and "big" farmers alike. It also means there is always someone on hand to give advice, collectively small farmers are a mine of information!
Would you give it up and return to town life? "We're sometimes tempted, particularly when there are animals to be fed in the freezing cold and pouring rain! But we have a thirteen year-old who was born on the property and where else could we go where there is no peer pressure? It's a good upbringing for children, they learn to put animals first and not themselves. Besides, we're used to the peace and quiet of the country."
If you could go back and do it all again, what would you do differently? I think we would try to walk before we could run........by that I mean not take on quite so much. The blueberries were full on anyway but my passion for animals meant we had plenty of cows and sheep running about as well, not just one or two either!! It just made for a lot of unnecessary hard work. We're a lot smarter nowadays.........(plus the fact Terry threatened to send me to the works if I brought any more livestock onto the place!!)
Sandy & Terry Cooper
Bluebank Blueberry and Emu Farm
1301 Akatarawa Road, RD 2, Upper Hutt
Phone/Fax: (04) 526 9540