From Linwood to New Zealand, agriculture career takes Meyer far

Megan Meyer with her favorite New Zealand cow, Bella. The cows are mainly Friesians, with some Jersey crosses.
Megan Meyer with her favorite New Zealand cow, Bella. The cows are mainly Friesians, with some Jersey crosses.

She didn’t grow up on a farm.

But Forest Lake High School graduate Megan Meyer of Linwood has made farming her career, with travel an added bonus.

Meyer spent last year milking cows on two dairy farms in New Zealand. And next year she’s going back.

“I started working on a farm in Lino Lakes when I was 14,” Meyer said.

That farm, Walton’s Hollow, is a special place with the motto “We bring the farm to you.”

Owners Bill and Jean Walton have been taking their animals to events in the Twin Cities metro area since 1985. They offer a petting zoo and pony rides, plus Norwegian Fjord horses pulling a hay wagon, carriage or sleigh.

“We hire quite a number of young people to work here,” Bill Walton said. “Megan was a go-getter, pretty smart. She was a good worker, fit in with the crew, loved to play with the animals.”

At Forest Lake High School, Meyer was a member of the Future Farmers of America and took courses in agriculture, including the College in the Schools animal science class, a four-credit partnership with the University of Minnesota.

After graduating in 2008, Meyer attended the University of Minnesota at Crookston, where she earned a degree in animal science.

While completing an internship on a farm in upstate New York, she learned about AgriVenture International Rural Placements, a program that connects people with jobs and host families in countries around the world.

Meyer wanted to travel. The website lists Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and others as destination countries.

The result was that last year Meyer milked cows at a 170-acre dairy farm with 170 cows.

“It was a 50-cup shed: You milk 50 cows on one side and then put them on the other side. There are 100 cows in the shed at once,” she said.

The farm uses a high-intensity rotational system to maximize grazing, she said.

Winter, from June to October, is “about 30 degrees and rainy” in that part of New Zealand, Meyer said. The cattle eat silage and hay to supplement their grass diet.

When the cows on that farm were allowed to dry up, she went to work at another dairy farm. The second farm had 500 to 600 cows, she said, and she worked there her last two months, April and May.

Normally, one year is the maximum AgriVenture adventure. But “he asked me to come back for the calving and mating season,” she said. Meyer is heading back next week and will be in New Zealand for another year.

“They set you up with a host family,” she said, “and you get time off to travel and experience the country.”

She traveled around the North Island of New Zealand, hiking and camping with other members of the AgriVenture program.

“It’s mind-blowingly beautiful, a whole other world,” she said. “There’s always something to look at.”

Enjoying Fjordland National Park.
Enjoying Fjordland National Park.

Meyer said the farms where she worked were about 40 kilometers from any town. The two nearest towns, Taupo and Rotoura, are tourist attractions.

Meyer has tried bungee jumping and went skydiving at Huka Falls, located in the Wairakei Tourist Park near Taupo.

She also had time for a two-week bus tour on the mountainous South Island.

Meyer traveled with fellow Agriventure trainees from around the globe.
Meyer traveled with fellow Agriventure trainees from around the globe.

New Zealand is a relaxed place to be, Meyer said, especially concerning the rules for footwear.

“You don’t have to wear shoes in a store,” she explained. “I do my grocery shopping barefoot.”

Unless there’s a sign saying “Please wear shoes,” as in some restaurants, people are allowed to go barefoot in any public building.

Some places of business even post signs saying “Please take off your dirty work boots before you come in,” Meyer said, resulting in rows of boots near the door. “They’d rather have you barefoot than muddy.”

Meyer said she became so accustomed to not wearing shoes that she sometimes forgets to bring any along.

Meyer left her boots and other farm clothes in New Zealand, so she’s packing light this week.

What will she do with her time this last week home?

“I plan to go camping with my mom and sister,” she said