Agriculture wasn’t on the recommended career path for Rachel Rule, but it has taken her around the world. Joanna Cuttance reports.

In 2016 Rachel Rule was crowned The Perfect Woman at the annual fundraising event for CanLive Cancer Trust, but since winning the crown she has not been resting on her laurels.

Rather the 23-year-old has forged a career in the agricultural industry. Rachel is the stock manager at Longlands, a 352-hectare sheep farm, near Fortrose in Southland. Longlands, owned by Ian and Jeanette Ruddenklau, is close to where Rachel grew up on a small sheep farm near Tokanui. Never had she thought six years out of school she would be running a neighbour’s farm. But good education and being prepared to move around to learn different aspects of farming has left her more than capable.

After she graduated high school Rachel was unsure which career path to choose.

“The agricultural industry wasn’t something that was recommended in careers,” she says. She did not immediately head into farming. After a couple of years out of school she decided she want to be involved in the agricultural industry. She studied at Telford, near Balclutha, graduated with distinction in 2014 in the top 5%, with certificates in agriculture and in farm management.

“It is the ideal place to learn the practical side of farming. Also, the placements you are put on allow you to meet a wide diversity of farmers,” she says about Telford.

Rachel believes knowledge is shared by communication and she had a knack for finding mentors who were happy to share their knowledge, whether it was at the local Waimahaka Collie Club or the Puketoi Young Farmers Club.

After Telford she went to Landcorp’s Wilanda Downs, near Ohai, working for Neil and Sarah Hassall. Here she was able to apply skills she had learnt at Telford. Landcorp encouraged workers to keep learning and Rachel started an AgITO Level 4 course while there, participated in training days which included quad bike and tractor safety, and first aid courses. It was at Wilanda Downs she started her own team of dogs.

When a fulltime casual position arose
at Phil and Jo Dowling’s farm in Ranfurly, Rachel leapt at the chance to take on more responsibility. An added incentive was a taste
of the high-country by mustering on a lease block the Dowlings had near the Pig Route on tussock country.

“The dogs could stretch their legs, and I enjoyed the challenge of casting them over longer distances. It was a great feeling seeing the rewards, from the hard work I’d put into them,” she says. Working in a much drier climate meant she had to learn the practicalities of irrigation. Phil helped build Rachel’s self-confidence and encouraged her towards future career opportunities.

Next, Rachel secured a job in the Wairarapa working at Wairere Rams. It was an opportunity to learn the genetic side of farming and she quickly realised there was a lot that needed to be learned. The upper management team encouraged learning and were happy to answer her questions. She also engaged with clients to find out what they were looking for.

“Most of them are more than happy to tell you about their farming business, location, rainfall and how the season has been going,” she says. The people at Wairere are very knowledgeable and they enjoyed helping young individuals coming through.

“It was a great place to learn what you should be striving for to make your own business successful.

“You can learn a lot if you are good at listening as not everything in farming is practical,” she says.

Rachel started at Longlands at the end of 2017. The farm, with 252ha effective, runs 2500 TEFRom ewes and 700 hoggets, lambing the ewes in September and hoggets in October.

There is never a typical day on the farm, which is one of the things she loves. If no sheep work is needed there is maintenance to be done, book work or forward planning.

She has enjoyed the challenge of moving from shepherd to stock manager. The key differences are time management and planning, along with doing paper work and keeping records up to date, as well as calling the agricultural representatives.

“Being in charge means I’ve got to always be thinking ahead in all aspects.”

It is great to have a position where the owner is also a mentor and is prepared to let her make decisions and plan for the following year, she says.

“It can’t be easy for any farmer to take a step back and let someone else make decisions”.

Since returning to the Southern gateway to the Catlins, Rachel has integrated herself into the community. She is a member of Search and Rescue, participates at the Waimahaka Dog Trial Club days, is learning to sew at community classes and has joined a rugby team, along with being a member of the Fortification Discussion Group which she says is a great place to bounce ideas around at.

She doubts she will enter this year’s Perfect Woman competition but says it is definitely something people should get involved in.

“It is for a good cause and is a well-put-together weekend with some challenging events,” she says.

She has some advice for those thinking of heading into the agricultural industry.

“It’s a great lifestyle but you have to have a genuine interest. It’s a lot of hard work but the rewards at the end of the day are satisfying”.

Rachel’s goal is to have set up where she could give back to Telford by taking on students and becoming a mentor to others who want a chance in the sector.

Experiencing the Yukon

In 2017 Rachel Rule headed to the Yukon Territory in Canada to experience the big game industry.

Initially, to prove her work ethic, she went as a volunteer to work for Midnight Sun Outfitting, who owned both a hunting outfit and a horse and cattle farm based 40 minutes from Calgary.

“It’s hard to tell someone from the other side of the world you enjoy working rain, hail or shine,” she says.

When she arrived in Canada she helped build a cabin, brand cattle and drove them to the summer pastures.

Proving her work ethic she was given a job in the hunting outfit. Rachel’s job involved, working with horses, cooking for clients, and helping spot big game animals.

Clients flew in for 12 days and had tags to shoot animals, like caribou, bears, wolves, sheep and moose, she says. Rachel and others, over five days would trail 40 horses to base camp in extremely remote areas of the Yukon. It was part of her job to look after the horses so they lasted the season and did not run away.

At times, while wrangling, she felt she had been thrown in the deep end. But the challenges and being outside her comfort zone with the thought of predatory bears and wolves around were well worth it for the experiences she gained.

“Northern lights, big game animals – moose, I got to experience it all and I’d love to go back,” she says.

At some stage Rachel wants to travel to somewhere in New Zealand where she can get a taste of the Kiwi agricultural and hunting lifestyle.

Since her stint in Canada Rachel has found another goal, to be a block manager in the high country.

“I love the hills and challenges that would bring”.

Getting on board

Rachel’s advice for those heading into the agricultural industry:

  • Be passionate
  • Rain/hail/shine -stock need shifting
  • Great lifestyle but hard work
  • Ask questions
  • Find a good boss
  • Gain an understanding of the rural markets.