Falling in love with dairy farming

That was six years ago and she is still here and has her residency. She will get her citizenship when she can, too.

When she arrived, her only goal was to see whether New Zealand was as good as her friends and family raved about.

“A friend and I came out on a working visa for a year and the intention was to work on dairy farms,” she says.

“We flew into Invercargill on a cold wet night and had no idea of what to expect. We did wonder what we had let ourselves get into.”

Although the scenery was similar to Scotland, it was still a bit of a culture shock.

“I guess the biggest thing was not knowing anybody.

“I was only 21 when I came out, so I had to grow up pretty fast.”

Not only that, she had to learn the Kiwi lingo and with her broad Scottish accent, try and get people to understand what she was saying.

“The rolling of the R is what tripped me up.”

Today, her accent has softened, she has a lot of dairy farming experience under her belt and she has fallen in love with Scott Henderson. They have set a wedding date in February 2019 to allow friends and family time to save so they can come to New Zealand.

She has also cemented her place in the dairy industry. Earlier this year, she was named the Southland-Otago Dairy Industry Awards Dairy Manager of the Year after coming runner-up last year.

She says she entered so she could benchmark herself against others and learn more about her strengths and weaknesses.

“The awards process allows you to put yourself up against others and see exactly where you sit.

“The biggest benefits of entering are the networking and meeting like-minded positive people. It is heaps of fun, you learn so much about yourself and your business and it’s a fantastic challenge.”

One of the recommendations from the judges was to find a mentor to help her get ahead.

“They also suggested we set out a five-year business plan and steps if how we are going to achieve our goal of 50-50 sharemilking in five years’ time.

“We have several mentors now and they are really great, helpful and supportive.”

At the time of winning, she was assistant manager for Nathan and Debbie Erskine on a 265ha 800-cow farm in Gore owned by John and Helen Kerse.

She also won the Fonterra Farm Source Dairy Management Award, DeLaval Livestock Management Award and the Fonterra Farm Source Feed Management Award and took home $8650 in prizes.

When she left Scotland in 2012, she had no idea any of that was waiting for her.

The daughter of sheep and beef farmers, she was born and raised in the small village of Biggar, near Edinburgh.

She had dreamed of becoming a vet but due to a change in her family’s circumstances, she missed a lot of school so left at the age of 15 and went home to work on the family farm. She then studied at Barony College, Dumfries, for three years. She graduated with a Higher National Diploma in Animal Care.

“As part of the course, there were several dairy farming modules.

“After doing those, I changed my mind. I decided on a career in dairy farming instead.”

After graduating, she went to work on a 360-cow dairy farm, milking three times a day for 18 months.

She then established her own business relief-milking and doing day-to-day farm work and worked on three dairy farms at the same time.

“Some days, I was doing six milkings – that was a common occurrence.

“In Scotland, farmers are paid for the volume they produce instead of the milksolids and cows are housed indoors. Farming is labour-intensive because of all the feeding out that has to be done.”

After hearing tales of how wonderful New Zealand was, she and a friend decided to come out and work for a year. The New Zealand dairy industry also appealed to her and she wanted to check out what opportunities there were.

“There are limited opportunities to advance in the dairy industry in Scotland, and you wouldn’t probably own your own farm unless your parents owned one.

“There are a lot more opportunities to progress, grow your business and own a farm here. There is also more than one pathway to progression. I have really found my feet and I wouldn’t go back to sheep and beef farming.”

She says she probably wouldn’t return home to Scotland to live now, either.

“Southland-Otago is home, I love it here, although I have been back home to visit.”

Initially, Linton found a job as a herd manager in Tapanui milking 650 cows.

“That farm was my training ground.

“I got to learn the Kiwi way of farming, which is very different to what I was doing in Scotland.”

She stayed for two seasons, then decided to look for bigger challenges so moved to Gore for Nathan and Debbie Erskine as the herd manager.

“The job was a large-scale farm.

“It was also self-contained, and we did all the cultivation and fertiliser applications ourselves.”

Working on a large-scale farm, was important she says.

“Everyone worked as a team because there were different areas of strengths and weaknesses spread among them.

“Working as a team helps achieve farm targets and goals.”

It was during this time she met Henderson, a building apprentice from Balclutha.

“Not long after, we sat down and discussed where were going and what we were going to do in life.

“Scott was keen to go farming, so he managed to get a 2IC job on a neighbouring farm and moved in with me.”

They decided it was time to work together and take the next step.

This season, they moved to Clinton to manage David and Robyn Balchin’s 196ha farm. She says it is the first step on their ladder of progression.

“Scott sure never expected to be working for his partner but he is loving it,” she says.

They are milking 495 cows and are on target to produce 234,000kgMS.

The farm is a System 2 and fully self-contained apart from the palm kernel that is bought in when required.

They grow a 34ha mixed crop of fodderbeet and kale on the run-off which has been used as a winter feed in the past.

“This season, we will be growing 3ha of fodderbeet on the milking platform.

“We will feed it in autumn as transitional feed before drying off the herd and again at the beginning of next season.”

They also grow 10ha of turnips to be fed in summer.

They do farm walks weekly and use the feed wedges and spring rotational planner to monitor pasture cover.

“Grass is key on this farm so we monitor it constantly as it can get wet in the winter and summer dry.

“Through the planner, we can identify pasture deficit and surpluses and adjust the rotation or supplement as needed.”

Silage is made on the run-off and on the milking platform depending on growth rates.

They target to graze at 2800 cover and achieve residuals of 1550 cover.

A soil test is carried out every three years and fertiliser applied as recommended.

Poor-performing paddocks are identified and either regrassed or put into crop. They aim to do 10 per cent each year to help with quality and growth.

The farm is outfitted with four-lines of six irrigation pods, which is vital to help grass growth in the dry summer months

The herd is wintered off the platform on the run-off 4km away and bought back in calving mobs prior to calving.

Calving date is August 7.

The Balchins rear the calves and keep everything that is AI and also keep some hereford and bull calves.

“All up, they rear 230 calves and keep about 150 replacements.

“The rest are sold at 18 months

“Calves are weighed weekly so we can monitor their growth rates. They are debudded before going outside and then drenched. The calves then go on out to our run-off to be grazed.”

They do pre-mating heats to help identify non-cycling cows and insert CDIRs in those that need intervention. All cows are metrichecked after calving.

The heifers are synchronised and put to AI on October 20 and mating for the herd will begin on November 1.

They will do AI for six weeks. Low BW cows will also be put to AI but will be inseminated with hereford so they still produce a valuable calf. The bulls are then put out.

“We are continually trying our best to improve BW and PW to have a top herd.”

Next season, they are hoping to move into a contract-milking position on the same farm.

At the same time, they are rearing friesian bull calves every year to help them build equity to reach their long-term goals of 50:50 sharemilking and eventually farm ownership within 15 years.

“Every year, Scott and I buy about 45 calves and rear them to 100kg and then we contract them out.

“We also have 28 cows free-leased out which we brought as four-day-old calves and have reared and grazed them, and nine cows milking in the herd here along with six rising two-year-olds. This all contributes to towards how we are going to achieve our long-term goals.”

Their short-term goal is to continue having a good work-life balance and grow their partnership and business.

“We do want to own a 500-600 cow farm one day.

“We want it to be big enough to give us flexibility and still employ staff so we can give back to the industry through giving them the same opportunities we have had.”

For Linton this is all a dream come true. Living in Scotland, she never thought she would ever own her own farm but now here in New Zealand it has so much more to offer.

Farm Facts

Owner: David and Robyn Balchin

Farm manager: Ann Linton

Location: Clinton, Southland

Farm Size: 196ha, runoff 177ha

Cows: 495 jersey and crossbreed

Production: 2016-2017 232,000kgMS

Target: 2017-2018 234,000kgMS

 

Source: Stuff

Link: https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/dairy/97139615/falling-in-love-with-dairy-farming

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