Living the dream at Jeff Farm

Michael and Tarryn Benton enjoy seeing cadets develop and grow. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Michael and Tarryn Benton enjoy seeing cadets develop and grow. PHOTOS: SHAWN MCAVINUE
A dream of managing a Southland property and training the next generation of farmers came sooner than expected for Michael Benton.

As he approaches the end of his first year at the helm of Jeff Farm, at Kaiwera, he is looking to put his own spin on the Salvation Army-owned sheep, beef and deer property.

Mr Benton has been the general manager for nearly a year.

Former general manager John Chittock hired him as an assistant manager in April 2022.

Mr Chittock resigned in July last year, aged 65, and now lives in Galloway near Alexandra.

"He’s the type of guy that loves the place so much he couldn’t stand being here and not working," Mr Benton said.

He said Mr Chittock and his wife Liz had done a great job.

"We have taken over a very large complicated ship which has been run very well for 20 years. We are grateful to be taking over a farm which is in great shape. John is an outstanding stockman."

Mr Benton and his wife Tarryn have three children, Makenzie, 10, Isla, 8, and Clay, 6.

Mrs Benton started at Jeff Farm as a cook in April 2022 and is now the farm administrator.

She was born and raised in Southland. Her father David Walsh was head shepherd on Jeff Farm when Mr Chittock was a casual shepherd.

Mrs Benton lived on Jeff Farm for two years from the age of 3.

Her memories include birthday parties, the Easter Bunny arriving, playing with her brother in the woolshed and picking blackberries.

"I remember checking the dog trial courses here with Dad and John."

Throughout his farming career, Mr Benton’s aim was always to have an opportunity to learn.

He was raised in Kaitaia in the Far North, a son of Pāmu (then Landcorp) dairy farmers.

At age 15, he left school to work on a Landcorp dairy farm.

"All I ever wanted to do was to go farming," he said.

He "lived and breathed dairy farming" for two years, but the routine of the work wore him down.

"I knew exactly what I was doing to the minute and I got sick of that."

At 17, he got some sheep dogs and worked as a shepherd at Paua Station in Cape Reinga.

After a year, he got shepherding jobs on Landcorp properties near Kaitaia before being deployed to Landcorp sheep, beef and deer property Rangitāiki Station, in Taupō.

On that farm, he met his future wife who was working as a farm technician after finishing her study at Lincoln University.

After a year in Taupō, they moved South for shepherding work on Landcorp’s Haycocks Station near Te Anau.

A year later, she got work at a deer genetics farm owned by Livestock Improvement Corporation in Balfour.

He worked at Glenlapa Station for Charlie and Emma Smaill for four years and then "jumped the Mataura River" to manage Cattle Flat Station.

The couple later moved north to work on Muller Station in Marlborough’s Awatere Valley.

"We thought we would give the high country and merinos a go," he said.

Mr Benton was the stock manager and his wife was the station cook.

They were living in a two-bedroom flat next to the cookshop and, when they learned their third child was on the way, it sparked a search for a job with a bigger house.

"We outgrew the house and there was no school so we had to get out of isolation."

The next move was Otiwhiti Station, in Hunterville, about halfway between Taupō and Wellington.

A cadetship open day will be held at Jeff Farm on Saturday, August 3.
A cadetship open day will be held at Jeff Farm on Saturday, August 3.
Sixteen cadets were trained on the privately-owned station each year.

He enjoyed helping a cadet "develop and grow" and getting them ready for work after completing a 10-month course.

Reasons for leaving Otiwhiti Station was a large amount of the property being planted in pine trees for carbon.

"I’m quite opposed to the blanket planting of pine trees and for me, the future was a bit unsure and I had a young family, so I looked for a job."

The next job was managing a farm in Omarama for three years, where he trained a Growing Future Farmers cadet.

Being able to train cadets again was a major reason for accepting the offer to be assistant manager at Jeff Farm.

Five cadets were on a two-year course. Three cadets were in their first year and two cadets were in their second year.

A cadetship open day on Jeff Farm from 10am on Saturday, August 3, was a chance for young people to show how keen they were to be a cadet, he said.

"Attitude is everything."

Everyone is invited to the open day.

"I’m not worried who comes. If you want to be nosy, come and be nosy."

A challenge of managing Jeff Farm was finding a balance between making a good commercial decision and providing cadets training opportunities.

"Is it commercial to have sheep hanging around for a week while we teach kids to shear? Absolutely not, but for the sake of training we have got to do it."

Mr Benton was considering some system tweaks including putting a Texel ram over a third of the Romney ewe flock to get as many lambs away as early as possible.

"I’ve always been big on having a split flock to try and maximise lambs gone before Christmas."

A target was to finish all progeny on farm rather than selling any store.

"We want all our lambs gone by the end of April."

An aim was to get cattle away between 16 and 18 months old, weighing up to 620kg, before their second winter arrives.

Another focus was maximising winter crop yields to reduce the area from 140ha to 120ha.

Mr Benton’s own CV did not include a cadetship, but he wished it did because it would have taught him a range of skills.

"It gives them a jumpstart and really gets them into it. A cadet can come from town and not know one end of a dog from the other and they can leave here in two years and know how to do fencing, tractor work, shear sheep, animal husbandry and health, lambing beats and have qualifications and dogs they have broken in themselves — that’s pretty good going."

Jeff Farm

What: Sheep, beef and deer farm.

Where: Kaiwera between Mataura and Clinton.

Owners: The Salvation Army.

Cadets: Five.

Size: Nearly 2500ha.

Stock units: About 30,000.

Ewes and hoggets mated: About 15,000 Romney.

Beef cows: 420 Angus.

Venison hinds: 520 red.


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