Donald's Farm helps encourage youth into the industry

Posted by on 9 September 2021 | Comments

Ellen Paterson grew up and studied in Auckland and her first (and only) experience with agriculture growing up was when her late uncle took her to feed out to the cows on a neighbouring property.

Ellen, at five years old came home and told her mother “It was the best day of my life!”

However, she took an interest in Screen Arts and thought that would be her career path. It wasn’t until lockdown hit in March 2020, did she realise that maybe this isn’t what she wanted for the rest of her life.

Ellen left school to study for a Bachelors in Screen Arts (majoring in writing and directing for screen and theatre) at Unitec Institute of Technology in Auckland. After graduating, she got a job at Warner Bros Television where she worked for 3 years as a Challenge and Story Producer. 

“It was during the first Covid lockdown in Auckland, I started looking at new job opportunities as I realised, I wasn't enjoying Warner’s anymore, and I felt I needed a change.  I was tossing up between going back to uni to study Paramedicine or maybe doing farming. The Go Dairy ads kept popping up on Facebook and I thought, I may as well give it a go because it was free and I had the time.”

The programme Ellen participated in was a three-week comprehensive course. This means novices new to dairy farming gained full knowledge and didn’t need to be worried about being “thrown in the deep end,” as Jane Muir, DairyNZ people team leader claimed.

The first week was an online course to help build an understanding of working and living on a dairy farm. Week two involved getting out on-farm, experience hands-on duties of dairy farming. Trainees learned about the milking shed and cows. The final week was all things farm vehicle safety, ensuring those going onto farms were prepared to be safe when arriving.

The programme now is aimed at creating awareness of job opportunities in the dairy sector, including the skills people learn, the benefits of working in dairy, and what living and working in a rural community is like. It gives people to opportunity to see if dairy farming would be a good fit for them.

Donald’s Farm (previously Donald Pearson’s Farm) was where Ellen did her week two on-farm practical work.

Sam Waugh is the farm manager at Donald’s Farm, and is passionate about developing the farm both from a commercial farming perspective but also in its role of encouraging the younger generation into the agricultural sector.

Donald’s Farm is a 74-ha farm that was donated to NZ Young Farmers for the purpose of encouraging young people into the agricultural sector. Under NZYF ownership, this farm operates as a commercial dairy farm, with the aim to utilize the farm and the way in which it is operated, as an outdoor classroom or learning centre to connect people with farming, having a particular focus on connecting with urban based rangitahi.

“The way GoDairy was structured meant a tutor was out on farm with the group, going around different parts of the farm and learning as many aspects as possible. I would often teach the members how to milk in the afternoons, and they would help out with different tasks such as getting cows and calves in from the springer mob, moving youngstock and so on. This meant the group not only learnt what a typical day was on-farm (particularly during calving), but they were able to help me out with a few tasks as well. The enthusiasm and interest everyone showed in the dairy sector and in farming, in general, was very encouraging,” said Sam.

Ellen thoroughly enjoyed her time on-farm and wanted to widen her skills and experience. She approached Sam and asked for some casual volunteer work on Donald's farm. Ellen soon spent a few hours on her weekends helping with day-to-day activities on the farm. Ellen realised that if she enjoyed spending her personal time “working” on-farm, then there is an opportunity to make this her full-time career.

“Going to Donalds Farm on the weekends didn’t feel like work, I just enjoyed being there.”

Sam thought it was clear early on from meeting Ellen that she genuinely wanted to know everything she could about farming. She would be the first to volunteer with any task during her week on-farm as part of the GoDairy Programme.

“Ellen showcased that she was a real go-getter and would often find herself outside of her comfort zone giving anything and everything a go. A quick learner who was always keen to learn and understand more, not just on the how to do something but to understand the reasons why we would do something a certain way. As she spent more time volunteering out on-farm, it became clear to me that she could have a very long and successful career in the ag sector if she wanted to.”

Ellen kept an eye out for dairy farming jobs and managed to find one down in Dunsandel, Canterbury. Being a successful applicant, she packed up her Auckland city life and headed south.

“I was very pleased to hear that she was applying for dairy farm jobs on farms across New Zealand and that she had made the decision to switch her career out for one working on the land,” said Sam.

Ellen now works as a Dairy Assistant at Fairfax Stonehouse Farm. Fairfax Stonehouse farm is a 275-ha milking platform, with a 120-ha irrigated run-off and 25-ha leased property. They milk approximately 1,100 cows through a 60 bail rotatory.

The rural life was quite the change for Ellen. She enjoys being able to look out her home windows and see the country, not the neighbours back fence. GoDairy was extremely beneficial for her career change, and it is a programme she cannot recommend more.

Find out more about GoDairy here: https://www.godairy.co.nz/