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The farmer 'Granna' who built her own log cabin, and paints her farm equipment pink – Stuff

Christine Hilton is a woman who can turn her hand to anything, including building a log cabin and taking over a farm with no real experience.
And she’s learned that if you paint your tools pink, no bloke will ever ask to borrow them. It applies to her ute as well.
“My son often used to ask to borrow my black ute, but I had a pink pinstripe painted on it, and pink lines on the mags, and he hasn’t asked me since.”
Hilton, a grandmother six times over, even managed to talk a John Deere agent round: “He asked what I needed on my tractor, and I thought ‘cup holders?’. Then he asked what it would take to get a sale, and I said, ‘paint it pink’, and I gave him a smear of my lipstick on a bit of paper (it was important to get the colour right), and so they did.”
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The tractor has hot pink wheels and trim, and it tows hot pink farm equipment on the Geraldine farm she now owns. Now in her second year of farm ownership, Hilton runs a herd of 800 cows, with contract sharemilkers.
“I had lived on farms, but my only role was making the coffees and looking after the kids,” she says. “This has been a real learning curve. Suddenly, I was responsible for everything on the farm, including all the debts, making all the financial and practical decisions.”
As if that isn’t enough work, Hilton has undertaken a training course at Natural Log Homes to learn how to build a log cabin – and she has built one.
She also volunteers on ambulance call-outs. And she has established Hiltonview, a hospitality venue with a 250 square-metre marquee on 2.4ha of land around her house on the farm.
“Recently I had a farm audit, and I always get nervous as there’s so much at stake. But there were pink things out in the garden and inside. They walked in and gave us an A for presentation on the farm.”
The two-bedroom log cabin she built is in Twizel, in a picturesque spot with many Douglas fir trees: “It’s like a little cabin in the woods – you almost expect to see a bear. But there are plenty of rabbits.”
Hilton says she decided to build the cabin after going with Graeme Mould of Natural Log Homes to visit a couple in Kaikōura after the big earthquake.
“The couple were lying in bed when the earthquake hit, and the bed broke in half. The windows were all broken and interior walls smashed, but the log walls of their home stood firm. Everything was destroyed except for the logs, and the couple said that’s what saved their lives.
“Being a girl who suffers from FOMO (fear of missing out) disease, I decided to attend Graeme’s course, have fun, and learn the skills needed to work on my own cabin.”
Of course, Hilton’s chainsaw is pink (professionally painted), as are her steel-capped boots and helmet. “None of the boys ever accidentally picked up my gear.
“I did get an ambulance call-out during the course and when we got to the crash site there was a TV crew filming for a reality TV series. I climbed out of the ambulance to find the camera on me. I had woodchips in my hair, but I did have my lipstick on, so that was OK.”
As if she didn’t have enough to do, Hilton catered for the log cabin course, preparing lunches, morning and afternoon teas beforehand. And she says the course itself was tough going.
“Hand peeling Douglas fir logs is a seriously challenging upper-body work out. My shoulders and biceps were aching. And there were mental challenges as well as the physical ones.
“Working out the mathematical equation as to the butt size and tip size of each log required, then finding the best log to fit that measurement in the yard; the accuracy of scribing, marking and executing notches and saddles; the long ‘v’ and ‘w’ cuts; and the sanding and the buffing.”
Then there are the mental challenges of farming.
“You have to learn about water consents, environmental plans and nitrogen budgets. There is an unbelievable amount of stuff you need to know, and you can’t make mistakes. You need to get a handle on all your consents and irrigation – how many millilitres you can use per hour, plus effluent storage and how this is redistributed.
“Farming is actually very challenging. And then you have the weather.” And Hilton says she finds when the milk payout goes up, so do the expenses, such as the cost of grazing. And fuel is up, all adding to the cost of running a farm.
“A good payout can disappear quickly,” she says, while simultaneously admitting she likes to spend money.
Hilton’s next project is a series of children’s books about “Granna” on the farm. Inspired by her own grandchildren, who love to help feed the calves in the school holidays.
We can be sure she won’t be short of a story or two.
© 2022 Stuff Limited

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