Social Media Highlights Rural Life, New Zealand.

Country Wide Magazine, January 2021.

By Annabelle Latz


Social media is loved and loathed, often simultaneously.

While Instagram is chock-a-block full of everything from stunning landscapes, gym selfies and downward dog yoga poses, fabulous animal photos and warm fuzzy images that remind us that life is pretty cool, there is an increasing presence of rural people doing rural things and celebrating rural life. Scroll through Instagram and you’ll be seeing more and more Swannies and Red Bands, teams of dogs, grubby four-wheel-drives, stag country and remote huts. Filters and air brushing will be at a minimum. It’s true-blue Kiwi life in the form of high country getaways, studs, day-to-day farm life, and hunters out in the back blocks exploring promising scrub.

Mainland Gatherers is an Instagram page featuring two hearty blokes we’ll call Puka and Terry. Based in Canterbury, they’ve got a good few years hunting under their belts and figured social media were a great way to keep current what they do and share how much they love it, particularly for the sake of their daughters.

“Our wives actually set it up. It was primarily to show our kids what we got up to before they were old enough to tag along.”

They have two young daughters each. They describe Instagram as an “awesome tool” that has allowed more inclusion of their children in their adventures.

“Both our four year-olds have caught blue cod and been scouting for deer.” Puka and Terry have been hunting most of their lives – Terry since he tagged along with this father shooting bunnies, while Puka started a bit later in life.

“Puka got seriously into pig hunting and finally came from the dark side over to deer stalking.”

They have also embraced YouTube.

“We decided to do YouTube videos so the kids had a video to watch, rather than other rubbish online. They love it.”

Initially Terry and Puka spent a lot of time on their social media page, as much as an hour a day, which was part and parcel of attending to their growing audience. But then they remembered the reason they set it up in the first place and that was for their kids, not their audience.

“It allows us to capture interesting adventures for the kids to watch and refer back to, even in years to come.”

They’re lucky now to spend an hour a week tending to the page, admitting that more time is needed to keep it sustainable and growing. But such is the way with fulltime jobs and busy family life. Reaping sponsorship is not a goal of theirs through their Instagram exposure.

“We are real and tell it how we are.”

Political incorrectness may feature from time to time, and they like the fact they aren’t restricted and can tell the truth.

“We are not the best hunters by any means, we just enjoy being out in the bush and gathering a feed for our families. That’s our happy spot.”


Tom Small co-manages Blairich Station, a Merino sheep stud up the Awatere Valley in Marlborough, belonging to his parents, Ron and Sue Small. He’s been involved in the operation for 11 years, and about five years ago decided to join the social media trend as a way to keep in touch with clients, friends, and other interested parties or businesses with whom they have things in common.

He’s gained his knowledge about best utilising his Instagram and Facebook page from following other pages and posting comments or questions on other posts.

“It’s a good way to share knowledge and ideas.” Tom admits he doesn’t spend enough time using these tools, which can be a bit of a juggle when things are busy on the land. He has certainly seen the direct positive effect that social media have had on the stud business through linking up with international clients.

“We have gained ram sales as well as having export enquiries, which have led to rams going to Argentina. It also helps us to connect with our markets, especially our wool, which is sold to Devold of Norway.”

On a local level Tom says social media platforms are a good way to advertise for staff and allow applicants to learn their way around Blairich Merino Stud passively.

“It’s a big tool for advertising for staff, it’s all I use now. And it’s also good for screening applicants.”

He said keeping things “interesting and frequent” to keep up the engagement with his audience can be hard at times.

“It’s a bit of a guessing game as to what people actually want to see.”

Sharing the daily life of seasonal activities is a focus for Tom.

“To let people know what we are up to, anything that may be informative or if we’ve trialled something and want to let people know how its going, for example, the area of genetics and genetic gains.”

Tom has seen a shift in the use of social media in the farming sector and said it didn’t used to be the promotional tool it is now, and it creates connections that those not using it may be missing out on.

“I would say it’s mainly the younger generation using Instagram and Facebook for their farming business. But some of the most active accounts I follow are from people older than me who use it professionally as a marketing tool.”


In Central Otago, Geoff and Justine Ross and their team use Instagram to share the unique way of life at Lake Hawea Station, (LHS).

Although well accustomed to the ways of marketing, (being the founders of 42BELOW vodka) Geoff and Justine and their two children still go about life much like social media’s not there, and ensure this tool doesn’t distract them from the moments of life in front of them.

“We are also not naturally too concerned about what others are up to – we are more interested in walking to the beat of our own drum.”

They bought LHS in 2018. However, this social media platform quickly became a wonderful way to connect intermittently with the rural (often very remote) communities both in New Zealand and overseas, and those in sectors related to their production of fibre and meat. Instagram offers them a way to “take the temperature of the sector” on any given day, and to see what stories are resonating.

“The information economy is powerful, as our sector macro trend is about clients wanting to connect to the source of their fibre and wool.”

They said Instagram is an answer to this, providing three key components. It enables people to see quickly what they’re up to and engage in “day to day chat”.

Through posts and stories on Instagram, LHS’s brand values can be scanned as well as well as the interests and engagement patterns with partners.

This means viewers can do primary research into what LHS is about before looking deeper and going onto their website.

“We decided to do YouTube videos so the kids had a video to watch, rather than other rubbish online. They love it.”


See the article online here

Social media highlights rural life | With Belles On
Social media highlights rural life | With Belles On

Hooked on Dog Trialing. New Zealand

Country Wide Magazine, January 2021.

A North Canterbury dog trialist is the latest in three generations in the sport. Annabelle Latz reports.


Nicky Thompson uses her grandad Lou’s dog trialing stick, it’s a curly tea tree stick which once had a vine growing up it. Lou’s friend put a handle on it.

Born and raised on Northland’s East Coast at Mangawhai Heads, Nicky moved to the South Island 15 years ago, and now calls North Canterbury home. As an eight year-old Nicky was gifted her first Huntaway by her dad. Her name was Dice and everywhere Nicky went, she went. Dice was bred to Lou’s Huntaway which is where Nicky’s dad Roddy’s dog “Wag” came from.

“The first time I ever ran a dog was at Hobson just out of Dargaville, when I was about 16 years old with my heading bitch ‘Betty.’ After yarding my sheep it’s fair to say I was hooked on dog trials,” Nicky says.

Later that season she had her first open win at Papakura in the long head, followed by a third the following week, qualifying her for the South Island and New Zealand champs in Lowburn, Central Otago. Roddy was judging a Hunt event at Hobson and also ran his heading dog Kip in both Heading events.

“I remember grandad being there watching, he loved it. He’d ring up every week to see how we went, or read the results in the paper.”

Lou is 97 and lives with his wife Wylma near Bayleys Beach in Northland (appeared in Country-Wide May 2020). Nicky has always acknowledged the beauty of having three generations of dog trialists in the family, and loves the fact that grandad Lou is still out training his own pups. In fact, Lou has put his Heading bitch to one of Roddy’s dogs, the litter is due at Christmas, and Lou will keep one pup to train.

“Lou had a hip replacement a couple of years ago which helps keep him out and about on his 41-hectare coastal farm.”

 In 2019 both Nicky and Roddy were competing at the New Zealand Champs in Kaikohe, so Lou and Wylma drove there for the day to see the action.

“Everyone always told me how awesome it was to have grandad around, and that he won’t be around forever. But I think he’s growing younger,” smiles Nicky, “he’s pretty special.”

Nicky has been judging for five years, seeing it as an opportunity to learn and “put a bit back into our sport.” She runs six dogs, and has Tommy Rocket, her Fox Terrier.

“The last couple of years have been really busy with work, securing a lease block and doing casual work in the North Canterbury area. The quality of my team has deteriorated which I find really frustrating but I’m really determined to get a nice capable team of dogs back…. Sentimental value got in the way, I kept some old dogs longer than I should have!”

Nicky’s standout dog to date was her Huntaway Base, who she broke in herself.

“At one stage I had three Open dogs, which was a good challenge. They were all so different to work so it was no walk in the park.”

Nicky has fond memories of her childhood amongst dogs and great people.

“I was a really homesick kid so was the old man’s shadow in school holidays and weekends, with my dog and pony.”

The South Island struck a chord with Nicky and in 2005, she landed herself a job at Nokomai Station in northern Southland. She says dog trialing is one of the few sports where it doesn’t matter whether you’re male, female, young or old. Although it’s not a team sport, you’re all friends at the end of the day.

“Dog trialing, it’s a great leveller. You can win one week and lose next week.”

Nicky’s message to fellow dog trialists is similar to that she’s learned from Lou.

“Get into it and give it all you’ve got. It’s like anything – the more time you put into your dogs the more you get out of them.” Lou says it’s great to see Nicky enjoying the sport so much, a seed that was sowed long ago.

“I’m very proud of her.”

Both Roddy and Nicky took a shine to the Huntaways early in their careers; Lou remembers Roddy always taking a Huntaway when he had to shift some sheep.

“Huntaways get very good, they’re quite brainy,” says Lou, remembering his standout dog Lad.

Roddy, a contract musterer, has recently moved back to Northland with his wife Janice. Lou enjoys watching him train his dogs, and has had many quality dogs in his career and been in many runoffs. Lou admits he would have liked to have done more dog trialing over the years, but work got in the way a fair bit, although he still spent plenty of time training dogs and competing in local Northland competitions.

“We couldn’t travel all over the country like they do now!” he laughs.

Lou is happy to pass his knowledge, which hasn’t changed much over the years.

“Get good pups, and make sure your dogs cast well and fall nice – aim for 12 o’clock. And don’t use erratic dogs, make sure they go up around the top, and not too close.”

Roddy never really got into dog trialing until his late twenties, but started training dogs in his teens on the farm Lou was working at on the Pouto Peninsula. The Zig Zag and Straight Hunt are his judging areas for dog trialing, and he agrees with Lou he’s always been about Huntaways. Dog trailing is all the better for having Nicky there alongside him.

“Right from when she was a kid, all she wanted was a dog and a horse.”

His 32 years of judging under his belt has created wonderful memories. “In some places you get way out into the boon docks in the back of Taranaki, and you get there and there is a fantastic community.”

Roddy has a team of six dogs, three of which he competes with; two Huntaways Tone and Doug, and a heading dog Bruce. He’s lining up his first competition at the end of January, and hopefully then down to Greenvale in Southland for Nationals. He’s in awe of his dad who’s still training dogs.

“That’s the beauty of it, there’s no danger in it. I hope I’ll still be training them when I’m 97. I just say develop the strong points of your dog, and the weak points will look after themselves.”


“I remember grandad being there watching, he loved it. He’d ring up every week to see how we went, or read the results in the paper.”

See the article online here

Hooked on Dog Trialing | With Belles On
Hooked on Dog Trialing | With Belles On