Inside Dairy October-November 2020

Growing a family legacy What started with planting some acacia trees 25 years ago has become a multi-generational passion for the Hunt family in Te Awamutu.

Family tree Rose and Vernon also planted pin oaks, meaning there are now plenty of trees along races, including ongoing new plantings of pin oaks, kahikatea, blue gum and walnut. It’s fitting that trees are so prominent in their approach because the name of the area, O - ra- kau, means ‘place of trees’. “But you can’t do it all at once,” says Rose, “so we’re fortunate this farm has been in the family this long. And even if we don’t reap the benefits, the next generation will.” And Sophia is continuing the tradition. “I buy a bunch of trees and think, ‘Where am I going to plant them?’ We’re lucky to have soil that doesn’t allow trees to blow over when it’s windy. We still need more trees, but I’m mindful of gateways, and getting in and out, as well as where roots could potentially block drains.” Sophia’s latest tree endeavour is to bag up little seedlings growing under the mature oaks, and she’ll plant them elsewhere on the farm in a couple of years’ time. She hopes starting with seedlings that haven’t had the tap root cut, and protecting them as they grow, will produce better shade trees than purchasing large saplings.

“Grandpa was against it at the time; grandma claims she suggested it,” says Sophia Hunt, whose grandparents were the original owners of O - ra- kau Dairy in Te Awamutu, Waikato. Sophia now helps farm O - ra- kau – a 350-cow operation split into two herds – alongside her parents Rose and Vernon, and sister Margie. What grandma and grandpa were disputing was Rose and Vernon shutting up a 1.5ha paddock with some mature acacias about 25 years ago, allowing the self-seeded acacias to grow, instead of being nibbled off each time cows grazed the paddock. The farm had a few stands of mature macrocarpas at the time, planted for timber and used by cows for shade and shelter. But the macrocarpas needed to be milled, and there was concern about the trees causing slips. So, Rose and Vernon decided to close the acacia paddock and create a new shade and shelter area. “The paddock was closed to stock for about seven years,” says Rose. “We’d intended to shut it for only five years, but the young trees needed a little longer to establish.” By shutting the paddock, the seedlings were able to grow into tall trees, creating a shady glade.

Seeing the wood for the trees: under the watchful eye of Jack, Sophia prepares oak seedlings for planting on the farm that's been in her family for more than 100 years.

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Inside Dairy | October/November 2020

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