After 38 years’ dairy farming, in 2016 Ross and Liane Cresswell decided to sell their farm of 30 years. With their four children pretty much grown-up, grandchildren on the horizon, a Kawhia beach house beckoning, and the lure of their shared passion for speedway racing, the timing was right to make some changes. A 31 hectare block near Karapiro in Cambridge was chosen as their next home.
Ross had wanted to be a farmer since he was seven years old but initially trained as a mechanic, whereas Liane had been brought up on a farm.
After meeting at 15 and marrying at 19, the couple moved into dairy farming and worked their way up the sharemilking ladder until they were able to buy their own dairy farm in Matamata. Later the neighbouring property was added bringing the farm to 136ha in total.
Now, Ross and Liane are happy with what their new property has offered them.
“It’s more of a lifestyle block really,” says Ross. “We needed somewhere to bring all our stuff to, and when we saw it was 77 acres, well we had to buy it didn’t we?”
The couple have an affinity for the number 7, with 77 being doubly lucky. Seventy-seven was their dairy number on the farm, 77 is the number they always have on their speedway cars; so 77 acres was a done deal.
While Liane believes she is semi-retired, she’s still involved in farm life and very much part of their serious hobby of speedway racing. Ross is still up early every day and out milking, partly because he loves it and partly because they’ve moved into a new venture of calf-rearing. The property has an older-style 12-aside herringbone shed and milk produced is fed to calves, and not for factory collection and human consumption.
Fruit salad herd
As it was previously used as a maize block, Ross and Liane had to fence and gate the property into paddocks, and install a water reticulation system from scratch. They brought the older cows with them from their dairy farm, and run around 48 mixed age, mixed breed dairy cows.
“We call them our fruit salad herd,” says Ross. “We’ve got Ayrshire, Shorthorn Cross (Blue), Shorthorn Cross Jersey (Brindle), Friesians and Jerseys in there. The calves that come in can be crosses with Brown Swiss, Speckle Park, Simmental or Herefords.”
Depending on the time of year, the farm has varying numbers of calves at different stages of development. The calves are reared to 110kg and sold on. They’re fed either from a nursing cow, cow’s milk or milk powder, and pellets from one week old. Ross has a breeding programme and enjoys the learning curve of moving from dairy cattle to beef cattle.
“Next season we aim to have our cows calving earlier, and then bringing in a second mob to mother up with them later on. We’re looking a turnover of 300 to 400 calves in 2019.”
Rearing calves on the cow isn’t particularly profitable and Ross is the first to admit that.
“It’s too expensive a piece of land for what we are doing with it,” he says. “But it’s a helluva lifestyle even if it doesn’t make any money.”
An old hand at this calving business means Ross has all his animals milked, fed and checked by mid-morning most days, and is able to turn his attention to the couple’s other love, speedway racing.
A rather splendid workshop is where, among all the car parts and machinery, sits their pride and joy – a Hypermac chassis Super Saloon car, named ‘Super Sally’.
Ross races the car at speedway tracks all over the country, including the Burger King Pro Dirt series. A campervan now sits on the drive, finally some comfort for their weekends away racing the car, after years of using an adapted truck with no toilet or shower.
Ross goes back to his mechanic roots and spends a lot of time “mucking around in the shed” adjusting and fine-tuning the 880hp Jack Cornett Ford 429 cubic inch engine. After every race the car is partly dismantled and everything is cleaned and checked.
“It’s got everything you could possibly want,” says Ross. “All the bells and whistles you’re allowed.”
The couple have both been heavily involved with Kihikihi Speedway Club for many years, and regularly attend their meetings. Established in 1954, it’s the second oldest speedway club in NZ and still at its original location on the Kihikihi domain. Most meetings are for fun but there are also championship meetings. Ross plays down his success but has quite a cabinet, or two, of shiny trophies – even if they aren’t allowed in the house.
There’s an air of contentment as the couple go about their business on their new property. Retirement doesn’t quite seem to be in the mix, but Ross and Liane are certainly enjoying their change in lifestyle and what it has brought to their lives.