Lucy and Hannah Aston are realising a dream they have shared since childhood.
The identical twin sisters always wanted to go farming. Now they are working and living together on Landcorp’s Aratiatia Station near Taupo, in charge of their own dairy support units and helping train future farmers.
The sisters grew up on a family farm near Waikaretu, south-east of Pukekohe.
When the farm was sold they moved closer to town, but the girls longed to be back on the land.
“We loved rural life, but lifestyle living on a small block virtually in town wasn’t enough,” Lucy said.
Even five years at Saint Kentigern’s College in Auckland didn’t dampen their desire to go farming.
Teachers were surprised at their career choice and Lucy said there was a misconception that you didn’t need to be intelligent to be a farmer.
Lucy and Hannah spent the next three years at Massey University, studying for their Bachelor of Agricultural Science degrees, majoring in agriculture.
The degrees were hard work. Hannah really enjoyed the summer practical work requirement, being able to go out onfarm, seeing where and how everything they were learning at university could be applied.
After university, the sisters returned to Pukekohe, working during the summer for a seed solutions company pollinating maize and sweetcorn, while completing their final university paper.
Hannah was offered a job in research and development consulting for a small fertiliser company, where she worked before taking a job at Farmlands in Te Awamutu, while Lucy set about finding work as a shepherd.
“I struggled to get a job. A lot of farmers didn’t want to hire someone with little practical experience and no dogs.”
She decided to do the year-long Future Farmer programme run by Landcorp at Aratiatia Station.
“I still had a lot of practical skills to learn and the course cemented in my head that this was what I wanted to be doing.”
It also provided an inroad to working for New Zealand’s largest farmer. The company was impressed by her skills and attitude and Lucy landed a job as shepherd general on a Landcorp farm near Te Anau in Southland.
After one year down south, she accepted a job back on Aratiatia as a senior shepherd, running a 500ha dairy support unit and helping train cadets.
Aratiatia is 2000ha effective, with three new dairy support blocks under development.
Lucy is in charge of feed budgeting, planning and shifts on the dairy support block. She helps out on the rest of the farm as needed and spends time working with the cadets.
“I like the responsibility of working with the cadets. Every day is different and it’s quite a sociable job.
“I thought this was an excellent opportunity to progress, with much
more responsibility and the ability to learn feed-management skills, plus it’s closer to family.”
Cadets may have thought they were seeing double when Hannah joined the team at Aratiatia in August. As a senior shepherd on one of the other dairy support units under development, her job is very similar to Lucy’s.
“I decided sitting behind a desk researching wasn’t really for me,” Hannah said.
“It wasn’t active or sociable enough.”
The senior shepherd’s role at Aratiatia offered the chance to get onfarm and learn the basics, then develop more advanced farming skills.
As cadets become competent, they can help with stock shifts and the senior shepherds get good support from the stock manager and farm manager.
“I’m learning a hell of a lot here, being involved in the in-depth intensive planning,” Hannah said.
The sisters chose to share a house on the farm to save on living expenses.
Despite admitting to the occasional tiff, they are enjoying working and living together again.
Neither sister holds a grudge, so they move on quickly from any disagreements.
Working with the 11 cadets, giving them advice and direction, is good fun and a great chance to develop leadership skills.
So far, a career in farming is living up to their expectations.
“Some people romanticise farming,” Lucy said.
“You get your good and bad days, but it all seems to balance out. Overall we’re very happy.”
Senior shepherds Lucy and Hannah Aston make a dynamic onfarm duo.
Aratiatia Station manager Mark Cunningham said the twins were valuable team members, who embraced farm goals and worked with determination to achieve them.
During her year in the cadet programme, Lucy impressed with her drive and commitment.
When the decision was made to develop 1500ha of the station into dairy support over three years, Mark thought she was the right kind of person to bring on board.
They needed staff with an interest and affinity for the technical side of farming, who could connect their decisions to the whole farm business.
The twins have a very close bond, so Mark knew Lucy’s sister Hannah shared the same drive and would also be a good fit on Aratiatia.
“They feed off each other very well and they’re willing to listen and take everything in,” Mark said.
“You tell them the goals and direction and they’ll head for it.”
Mark said the sisters were also willing to speak up if they didn’t agree with an idea or understand the goal, so any issues could be addressed and the team could get back on track quickly.
“They’re very organised with their systems, they’ve got maturity and are very good with the cadets.”
Dairy heifer calves arrive on the farm in December and are grown out until 15-months-old.
They leave the farm as in-calf heifers and the grazing blocks also winter dairy cows for Landcorp and other farmers.
Growth in winter is very restricted, but winter crops and silage ensure enough feed is available during the colder months. The pumice soils are prone to drying out during summer. If the farm does not have regular rainfall every 10 days during summer, it can get challenging.
Lucy and Hannah plan and implement their grazing rotations, monitoring feed availability closely.
They use a sward stock to regularly check pasture residuals as stock are shifted from one cell to another.
Every month Lucy and Hannah do a full pasture walk on their blocks, measuring covers with a plate meter.
Aratiatia uses the FarmIQ farm management system. The sisters have done some training with the system, using it mostly for entering pasture covers.
Hannah and Lucy said Landcorp offers great support and opportunities for professional and personal development.
Lucy is completing her level four sheep and beef studies with Primary ITO. This year, she and Hannah will both study level five production management.
They said Landcorp was a supportive company to work for, with varied career opportunities.
Lucy plans to learn as much as she can about feed management and leadership, then work her way up to higher farm management roles.
Hannah thinks she might like to work in a consultancy role in the future. She is particularly interested in seed and grass cultivars.
“Agriculture is such a broad industry, we’ve got so many options,” Lucy said.
The sisters enjoy working with and training their farm dogs. Off-farm, Hannah likes to play squash. Both sisters are keen to join a young professionals group in Taupo and continue their involvement with New Zealand Young Farmers.
Hannah was chairperson of Cambridge young farmers and before that was involved in the Franklin and Te Kawa branches. Lucy was treasurer of Franklin young farmers and the new member liaison for the Te Anau branch.