Originally from the UK, Sophie Barnes is a first generation sheep farmer who had her heart stolen by New Zealand.
After spending the last two years farming in New Zealand, first generation sheep farmer, Sophie Barnes, tells us why her love for the country has only grown and how much experience the opportunity has given her.
With six sheep for every person living in New Zealand, it is a sheep lover’s paradise. There are only 4.6 million people here in New Zealand and 29 million sheep. If you want to see stunning landscapes, work on vast, progressive farms and enjoy life to the fullest, you simply cannot go wrong with New Zealand.
I first heard of New Zealand at the Sheep Breeders Round Table Conference. The topic was Genetics and all I heard over the two days was, ‘In New Zealand they…’ and, ‘When this was done in New Zealand’. It got me thinking about how I could combine my love of maths, science and sheep farming. It really did seem like NZ was the place to be.
Even though I was quite happy with my 300 sheep, I knew I wanted to farm more as I secured a proper farm. I had contract shepherded on bigger farms but I never really had day-to-day experience with working on a larger scale. The third farm I worked on in New Zealand had 27,000 sheep. I’ll repeat that – 27,000 sheep. I still cannot get my head around it. Pens of sheep in the yards were bigger than my entire flock at home. Worming a UK flock-sized mob in one morning gives you more stock handling experience than you could ever hope to get in such a short time at home.
Back in the UK, my working sheep dog was a metaphorical trusty bucket full of feed (or stones if I had forgotten their food), shaken vigorously while yelling, ‘come on’ and running in the general direction you wanted the sheep to go. This worked fantastically - most of the time. However I knew that soon enough my method would not work as efficiently and I would have to learn how to use a proper sheep dog. Dogs are the life and soul of sheep farms here. Many station shepherds have at least nine or 10. I have one and he is wonderful. I am still not a pro at working him, and at times he disobeys me - only for me to realise he is actually doing the job way better than what I asked. I have had the chance to see teams of up to eight dogs working at once, all of individual whistles. It is an awe inspiring sight.
On my travels around the UK, I met a farmer called Neil Perkins. He told me when he visited NZ, he quickly found they have a better work/life balance than most farmers back at home. He said that they spent time as a family after work, or with friends drinking a beer, or three. To me, a certified workaholic who once worked four months of twelve hour days with only five days off, this sounded incredible. I could have sheep farming and a social life.
I had been very lucky as a child going on lots of holidays to Spain and France, so when it came the time for everyone to start backpacking across the world before, or after, university, I never really felt compelled to. I was happily growing my flock and growing a brand. However, New Zealand kept cropping up and the itch to travel became harder to scratch. So, before I started applying for tenancies, I decided to sell up and spend two years over here.
Pretty much the day I joined Twitter, I followed a NZ farmer called William Morrison (@MorrisonFarming). Day in, day out, he posted spectacular photos of his farm. The landscape was incredible and his working day seemed perfect to me. I promised myself that one day I would see this awe inspiring place. I am not ashamed to admit that the first time I saw ‘proper New Zealand’, I cried. Places are just that beautiful over here.