Regrets – I have a few

Mark Chamberlain finds himself looking forward to a gap year he wasn’t expecting.

In Home Block5 Minutes

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST come to an end and, sadly, the Chambo’s time in West Otago is up. By the time you read this, we will have uprooted our possessions and memories and moved to the metropolis of Gore.

Sharemilking is never straightforward, and the wind of change is always just around the corner. There is not much I can say, other than this was not the future we had been building towards. A surprise farm sale that didn’t fall our way left us reassessing our future.

My father, being a crusty Southland sheep farmer, was by default no supporter of the dairy industry. The invasion from the north in the 1990s was akin to a modern-day gold rush. Their arguably more progressive farming practices were a shot in the arm for a conservative Southland economy. My foray into the industry, leaving behind a good trade, was met with the same negativity by my father, with his vision of my impending failure a constant reminder. Dad was, at times, a glass half-empty type of fellow.

It is not all bad news. Our complete herd has been sold to good people just up the road; lock, (young) stock and barrel. The girls will still get to enjoy the steadfast vista that is the Blue Mountains. And more good news, I get to award myself a “gap year”. There will be, of course, a transition period – the type of transition that my tackle will survive, however. During my gap year, I intend to smell more roses. I have an opportunity that many never get – a chance to stop and think about what this next phase of my life might look like.

Mrs Chamberlain is looking forward to no more unexpected phone calls at dawn, due to another relief milker’s sudden bout of “food poisoning”, or flat tyre and/or battery. Nor will she miss their inability to commit to a Sunday morning milking as the cows’ daily routine interferes with their social calendar.

My mini break is also well timed to proffer my observant, if somewhat cynical, commentary as politicians tart themselves to the voting public. I worry that PM Chippie might buy his way back into office by printing more Monopoly play money while his government operating under a jury rig slowly drowns in a stormy sea of stupidity. Perhaps some of our politicians should take a leaf out of this humble sharemilker’s book, and they too should take a gap year, to help repair the gap between their ears. This would be incredibly beneficial and productive for our country, only returning once that cranial void has been filled.

First item on the gap year agenda – sleep. My sleep pattern mirrors that of a six-month-old baby with colic. The dog and I will both benefit from more exercise and, as I expand my culinary repertoire beyond the humble roast, Mrs Chamberlain will be much enamored.

Will we return to dairying? Perhaps. Time will tell.

We all know that hindsight is a perfect science. Rural folk often have their backs against the wall which can act as their driver – be it finance, fear of failure (real or perceived), and more lately, compliance. That means we find ourselves continuously surfing the crest of the productivity wave to make ends meet. Farm ownership has been a goal for so long that once it appeared within reach; an honest appraisal revealed that the costs were far more than just financial. The cost to me over my years of dairying was time. Time away from family, working long hours or being so tired once home that I was mentally checked out. Special moments lost and missed. With hindsight, I was so focused on being the best farmer I could, when perhaps my focus should have been on trying to be the best father I could. Enough said.