South Canterbury Sheep Farmers Help Keep the World’s Mega Rich Comfortable at Sea

24 May 2016

From the rolling green hills of Waimate to the world’s most luxurious super yachts, the fine wool Harriet Gardner and her family produce is certainly one of a kind.

Several generations of the Gardner family have farmed the property and since 1982 they have carefully breed a unique flock of sheep featuring only black, brown and grey-coloured animals whose wool is now exported all over the world.

Their Merino wool is used to make exquisite suits in Italy and high-end fabric for furnishing super yachts. While wool from the Gardner’s own ‘Haunui’ breed (a 22-24 micron sheep) is processed by the family here in New Zealand and sent to Taiwan, Japan, Croatia, South Africa, the United States, Canada and all over Europe for use in handcraft projects.

“People send mum pictures from all over the world saying ‘look at what I’ve made with your wool today’. There’s nothing else like it out there. It’s a really niche product,” Harriet explains. “We have a ‘closed flock’ – that means we don’t buy or sell any rams. We keep our own genetics.”

Harriet hopes to one day take over the 600ha property with her older brother.

“Our family history here definitely makes this farm a lot more special. It’s not just about lamb or wool, it’s home.”

Harriet and her parents run between 4500 and 5000 stock units and primarily focus on wool production, although they also finish lambs and occasionally beef as well courtesy of their 40 breeding cows (Shorthorn-Angus cross).

“I have a real passion for the product we create. When the wool is spun up you get lots of changes in colour with the natural sheen and shades. No one patch on the sheep is exactly the same colour. It’s quite cool at shearing time because some of them wind up looking like Dalmatians covered in spots.”

Harriet’s official title on the farm is ‘shepherd’ – a position which actually means “the person who does most jobs”, she laughs. Harriet manages the lambing season each year and helps her parents with everyday tasks such as drenching, vaccinating, shearing and fencing. She also competed in the New Zealand round of the World Young Shepherd’s Challenge in 2014.

As well as working on the farm near Waimate, known locally as ‘Taranui’, Harriet has also thrown herself into part-time study with Primary ITO in an effort to upskill. She has completed a Level 3 sheep and beef breeding qualification and a Level 4 Certificate in agriculture, and is now tackling a Level 5 Diploma in Agribusiness Management.

“The agriculture courses I did were very hands-on and covered all the basics I needed to know. But the diploma I’m doing now will give me all the business skills I need to help take the farm forward in future,” she says. “It covers all the ins and outs of staff management, financial planning, sustainability and business management – everything from health and safety to employment contracts. All the little things which you need to legally know.”

Harriet says she’s appreciated the chance to study and upskill without having to take on a student loan or give up her weekly income.

“I’ve also really enjoyed being part of the Primary ITO family. It’s been very supportive. They know farming gets a bit busy and hectic but they’ll check up on you regularly to make sure you’re still progressing. They don’t give up on you.”

Aside from study and fulltime work, Harriet is also a keen equestrian rider and is currently a national amateur rider champion. She’s also had success in stock-judging competitions, having won both regional and national competitions and represented New Zealand at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show last year placing 5th overall.

While life is extremely busy, Harriet says the quality of wool the farm produces each year is continuing to improve. “It’s something our family have built up and worked on together. Our wool is literally used all over the world and it’s exciting to see what will happen in the future.”