Penny Harding / Stuff
Karen Chapman says there’s no place she’d rather be than in the milking parlour.
Among the sprawling paddocks of Otaua, near Waiuku township, south of Auckland, tucked away in a farm shed – there’s nowhere Karen Chapman would rather be.
As a child, Chapman was diagnosed with intellectual disability.
But whenever she’s on a farm, tending to animals, she doesn’t feel handicapped at all.
It is in the milking barns that she feels at home.
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“I really like it,” Chapman says.
“We used to go to A&P shows and see the cows, that was my favorite for a long, long time.”
For the past 40 years, IHC, a leading disability service provider, has worked alongside a network of rural farmers across the country through the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme.
Farmers who join the program can donate the produce of their animals to help people like Chapman have a better quality of life.
IHC’s national fundraising manager, Greg Millar, explains that the organization’s work is based on supporting fundraising to help people with developmental disabilities, whether young or old, as well as their families.
“I often feel so humbled when we talk to some of these farmers, some of them have supported us for generations,” Millar says.
“We have around 4,000 farmers who have contributed and donated…but you don’t have to be a dairy farmer to contribute.
“Over the past 40 years it has been incredible, and the program has raised just over $40 million, and that has a huge impact on our work in New Zealand,” he says.
Chapman grew up on a farm with his two sisters Judith and Diane and their parents.
It was their father Noel Chapman, a dairyman apart, who taught him the tricks of milking cows.
“We used to help my mom and dad… milk the cows,” Chapman said.
“We were very close…I’m the youngest in the family.”
But in 1978, when she was 14, both of Chapman’s parents had died and she and her sister Judith were transferred to an institution.
Since then, Chapman and her sister have been supported by IHC.
When the local farming community learned that she wanted to keep dairy cows, they invited her to their farms.
Rebecca Payne, who has been a dairy farmer for 15 years alongside her husband Mike, is a second generation participant in the Calf & Rural Scheme.
The Payne family bought their own farm last year, and Chapman is now a regular visitor to help milk the cows.
“Karen and I get along so well…It was awesome, and I love having her around,” Payne says.
“She’s very quick at sucking cows, as quick as anyone else.”
Payne says nothing is ever too much trouble for Chapman, and it’s a pleasure to work with someone who is “so happy and optimistic”.
Chapman, now 58, lives independently with continued help from IHC.
For the past 40 years, she has been able to pursue her lifelong passion for milking cows while visiting farms between North Waikato and South Auckland through the IHC Calf & Rural Scheme.
She hopes to remain part of the rural farming community for as long as possible.
“I’m happy because…I don’t want to give up,” Chapman said.