Nicki Tillett is a beef-cattle farmer who buys in weaners, usually steers, keeps them for a couple of years and then sends them off to the works. Nicki has got 210 acres of beautiful 'summer proof' land nestled under the Ruahine Ranges. She prefers to run a bit under-stocked rather than risk running out of grass so she normally has about 120 head on the place.
Nicki is on her own and apart from hiring contractors to make the hay she pretty much does everything herself. This includes maintaining fences, replacing crossings, fixing water pipes and troughs ("the bane of my existence"), buying stock, feeding hay, drenching etc. Nicki's dog had been badly treated and ended up at the SPCA - she was a trembling wreck when she got her but she's fine now and they're a team.
"My tractor must be 40 years old and has seen better days - but then so have I."
Nicki's property was part of her Dad's farm and she has always loved it. He mostly had sheep with a few beef cattle. As a 'youngster' it never occurred to Nicki to stay home with her Mum. When her Dad headed out on the farm she was the first one in the Land Rover and would be perched up on that arm that folded down from the seat, ready to spot anything amiss. Later on she bought an old horse with her own money. Smokey was 22 years old and cost her $20. She would get the dog and either hop on the horse or the Honda 90, but either way she was out the door.
"I married a cowboy - a real one. We moved to his family's 45,000 acre ranch on the Montana-Wyoming border in '91. For 6 months of the year we ran a working guest cattle ranch where people from around the world would pay to be a cowboy for a week or two at a time. We lived in a tipi and had no electricity or running water out at the camps, and I was the cook. It was too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter, the soil was rubbish and you could place your hand flat on the ground between blades of grass. Most of it you could run one cow per 200 acres so when you add in bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and rustlers you can see how it made sense to have some other form of income."
In '97 Nicki's husband rode off into the sunset with a good friend of hers so a few years later Nicki and the kids came home. She leased the deer farm after her Dad passed away and then bought the chunk of dirt she has now after her Mum went.
"I fought tooth and nail to stay here and I'm proud as punch to call it my own."