The growing number of women involved in Silver Fern Farms are intelligent and dedicated with a diverse range of skills that would impress and inspire anyone. And they’re helping change the face of New Zealand agriculture through innovation, resilience and lots of hard work.
Juliet Hansen - Haupouri, Okahu
If you fall off the horse, get back on it. If there’s one person who knows how true that proverb can be, it’s Juliet Hansen. Family tragedies, sibling disagreements, business reverses, natural disasters, global financial crises: like so many New Zealanders whose past and present history is tied to the land, she has seen them all. Juliet is not the ‘poor me’ type. She has the ‘sit yourself down, dust yourself off, we can beat this’ spirit. Tough times have made Juliet and husband Warwick’s commitment to daughters Hilary and Bridget, and the family’s dedication to its east-coast farming heritage, stronger. As Juliet says, “We’re an unusual family in what we’ve done and achieved.”
We’re an unusual family in what we’ve done and achieved.
After her father died at a young age in 1980, Juliet’s mother managed the properties. Juliet told her two brothers at the time that it was important to keep the family tradition alive. But the ’80s were tough times for farmers. It was time to think outside the box.The Hansens had an insight into showjumping – Warwick had competed at the top level for 20 years – and saw that their retired racehorses weren’t up to the mark. With one-time Rugby World Cup-winning captain David Kirk, they founded NZ performance Horses (NZPH) to breed showjumping champions on the Cape Kidnappers farms, alongside the cattle and sheep. It’s now the biggest sport-horse operation in the Southern Hemisphere. Bridget, or Birdie, manages the Australian operation.
So what’s the link between horses and quality beef? The Hansens and Silver Fern Farms were brought together at these showjumping events. The son of Richard Dee, Silver Fern Farms’ livestock representative, often competed alongside Birdie. Watching his son compete gave him the opportunity to get into the Hansens’ ear. Malcolm Gourlie, Silver Fern Farms’ regional livestock manager for the Eastern North Island, was another showjumping dad. Juliet says: “They were on at us at the competitions, so we agreed to trial the company with our bulls in the first year. They were so good to us, we moved to Silver Fern Farms with our bulls the following year.” That was four years ago, and it’s been a growing win-win partnership ever since.
Haupouri has seen changes over the past few years; there’s the 9km predator fence the family built, and Juliet and Warwick have sold the homestead to David Kirk. And there will be more changes that the families who first cleared the bush seven generations ago won’t recognise, such as coastal areas being subdivided into developments. So what keeps the Hansens on the land? “We’re still farming. It’s all we want to do. It’s in the blood.”