Farm Ireland

Thursday 14 December 2017

Swapping Mercs for milking cows

Luxury car salesman trades in old life for job on a New Zealand dairy farm -- and says it's a dream. By Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

Two years ago Bill Moore was the embodiment of the Celtic Cub. Flogging Mercs by the dozen, he was raking in close to a six-figure salary.

Now he manages 580 milking cows on a farm in New Zealand, and, as he says himself, "has never been happier".

"My South African wife, Anke, had always been on to me about moving to a country where the climate was more like where she's from," explains Bill. "So one night around Christmas in 2007, I just googled 'farming in New Zealand'. 'Marvin farms' was one of the first things that came up and I sent them a message asking what was the story on working in New Zealand. Within an hour I had a reply. It said, 'when can you start?'

"Six months later we were on our way. It sounds like it was a daft decision since I had a great job selling cars, a lovely apartment and here I was signing up for a lifetime of long hours at half the wages. But we were specific about what we were looking for. Somewhere close to a town so that Anke could get work, the sea and mountains because we love being in an area where we can pursue our sporting interests."

Bill and Anke are serious athletes. Both were professional cyclists and now they get more time than ever to indulge in their sporting pastimes.

"We start at 5am every morning but you're considered a complete fool if you're still in the yard after 5pm that evening. That means that I have plenty of recreation time every evening."

Farming in New Zealand is not for the faint hearted. You work fast and hard and there is no room for shortcuts, according to Bill. "We follow procedures for everything, and everyone has designated tasks to handle." There are three full-time staff, including Bill, on his farm. They have just completed their 12-week calving season, when all 580 cows calved to grass -- 270 calved in just 10 days. "It sounds hectic, but whether you're collecting 10 calves or 37 (which was our biggest day), it's the same procedure and all pretty stress free."

Bill grew up on a dairy farm in east Meath and was always happy to help out at home. "I spent four years working on the farm after leaving school and then another four as a Glanbia sales rep so I have a very good knowledge of farming," says Bill. "But I've already got brothers helping at home. Dad won't be retiring anytime soon so it didn't make sense to try to start farming in Ireland.

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"It's really easy to get started on a dairy farm here. Dairy farmers are on the skills shortage list so there's no problem getting a visa. And if you want to take a stake in a farm, you don't need a huge ball of money.

"Share-milkers can work their way into full ownership of a farm in less than 10 years and the banks here are happy to lend to dairy farmers."

Bill plans to start share-milking himself next year. "You need to have resident status before you qualify for share-milking. Most of the guys I train with either share-milk or own their own herds. They're really open about the problems and solutions. Everything is about maximising profit, minimising waste and, above all, quality of life," he stresses.

How have the Moore's coped with leaving behind their high-paid jobs and city life in Ireland? "I have a better quality of life here," says Bill emphatically. "The cost of living is cheaper and we've more free time now."

Bill recently turned down an offer to manage a herd in the South Island for a 50pc increase in salary: "It's a different way of life there -- very isolated -- and that's just not our cup of tea."

Irish Independent