In early June last year all was looking rosy for South Canterbury contract milkers Mary and Sarel Potgieter.
By the end of July their lives had been turned upside down and their dairy business was on a rapid downward spiral because of their honesty over Mycoplasma bovis.
Now the self-described Mb founders are in two minds over the call they made to the Ministry for Primary Industries to report untreatable mastitis in their dairy herd.
“We first noticed a problem in early June. By the end of June we had 162 cows showing signs and the vet was flabbergasted,” Mary said.
“By mid-July we had tried everything. We had done tests and milk samples, nothing could be cultured – it was not normal mastitis.
“We were encouraged by the vet to notify MPI so we did.”
Mycoplasma bovis was identified and on July 22 the cattle disease, while in every country in the world expect Norway and, till then, New Zealand was identified by the ministry.
“Overnight life changed terribly.
“We had all these extra costs. We were fully staffed and working hours galore. We had to make staff redundant. That was devastating and more dollars out of the budget.
“It has all carried on downhill from there,” she said.
“Now we are out of business, have no income and are being blamed for notifying.
“We seriously do look back and question if making that call was the right thing to do.”
The Potgieters were in their third season contract milking with the van Leeuwen Dairy Group on the Tainui farm at Morven.
They were working towards four calvings a year with \year-round milking of the 1700-cow herd, 1200 milking at any one time.
“Already in June we were 83% ahead in production and on target for 722,000kg milksolids – if we had kept milking.”
Instead the couple heartbreakingly saw the entire herd culled.
“On December 2 all the cows were gone leaving us with lots of extra costs from the day we went under Restricted Place Notice in July, now no business, no income and no compensation.”
Then the letter they feared arrived.
“We have received notice from the van Leeuwens telling us they don’t need us on the farm any more,” Mary said.
With lost business, lost job, lost farm and no compensation, as yet, the Potgieters have been forced to sell up everything they own, including the kitchen chairs.
“We need the money to survive and we have nowhere to put anything if we could keep it.
“If we had been able to keep milking 95% of our debts would have been paid by April.
“We are feeling bitter about the whole situation.”
While most grateful for the help and support they have received from neighbouring farmers, their accountant, the Rural Support Trust and especially loyal staff, one who has stayed on unpaid until the absolute end – they are struggling to come to grips with the devastation.
“Mentally this is taking its toll and just how much longer we can stand up – I just don’t know anymore.
“The cows are like your family. Sarel was a real animal lover, he watched over as every cow went to slaughter, emotionally this has hit him very hard.
“We don’t know what to think any more. We just don’t know how to move forward.”
The couple are living in hope that each new day will shine some light, compensation will be paid and a suitable new job will come their way.
“They (MPI) always said we would be no worse off but I can tell you we are worse off – much worse off and still there’s no compensation and no idea when.
“No matter what happens we will always be worse off now.
“We notified it (Mb) and now we feel we are being punished for it. We just wish we had never found it.
“We just want this to go away so we can move on.”
While there had been a couple of job interviews, nothing was yet confirmed.
The Potgieters’ preference is to stay in NZ.
“We have been offered a job in Australia and if nothing else comes up very soon we will have to go but our first choice is to stay in NZ, even if that be a move to the North Island.”
Meantime. the long-awaited clearance from MPI has finally been given to sell their machinery and plant including tractors, silage wagons, feed mixer, mowers, calving equipment – “everything to run a dairy business”.
“Now we have the all-clear we can sell up, including all our household furniture. We will hopefully get something to pay off some debt and to live on.”
Meantime, the bulk of the farm is now growing maize.