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Otorohanga NZYF member's journey from the cellar door to the cowshed

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

Having a glass of wine with lunch used to be a daily occurrence for former “travelling winemaker” Chelsea Smith.

“It helped develop your palate,” said the trained viticulturist, who’s worked in vineyards across New Zealand and in Europe.

“In central Otago, a colleague would bring out a bottle of wine at lunch time which we’d have to blind taste.”

“The aim was to guess where the wine was from, what year it was produced, and the variety of grapes used,” she said. Chelsea worked part-time on the family farm between vintages.

In 2015, she swapped the cellar door for the cowshed, entering the dairy industry full-time. Fast-forward to March 2018, and the 29-year-old was named the Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year.

In less than a fortnight Chelsea will be in Invercargill for the national finals of the NZ Dairy Industry Awards. “Entering the NZ Dairy Industry Awards has helped me learn, grow and benchmark myself,” said the Te Kawa West Young Farmers member.

Chelsea’s in her first season managing 1,100 cows for Steven and Amy Van Der Poel southwest of Te Awamutu. She moved north with her partner Jarrod Davies who’s a builder in June 2017.

The pair met in Christchurch while Chelsea was second-in-charge on a 430-cow irrigated dairy farm near Rangiora. “I’m a trained artificial insemination technician with LIC,” she said.

“In Canterbury, I had a local AI-run and this past spring I ended up mating the bulk of the cows at my current farm.”

“I really enjoyed it, but it meant I only had myself to blame if the cows didn’t get in calf,” she laughed. Chelsea, who manages a team of people, took out merit awards for employee engagement, feed management and dairy management.

She entered the NZ Dairy Industry Awards after her brother and sister-in-law took part in the awards programme in Southland. “I attended their awards dinner and I was just so amazed and excited by the talent and passion of people in the industry,” she said.

Chelsea decided her first season in the Waikato would be the perfect time to have a go.

“I thought I’m not going to know anyone and where we live is quite isolated, so I won’t be distracted by a social life,” she laughed. The 29-year-old said there are a couple of similarities between her current and former careers.

“With winemaking, you have one time of year to harvest the grapes you have to work with for the next 12 months,” she said.

“Mating is that stress point for dairying. You have a brief time period to get cows cycling and in calf to set yourself up for the next season.”

Written by
NZ Young Farmers

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