Team effort needed to be the best

Phillip Colombus checks the cows with his wife Mel and daughter Emily (14 months) on the Eyrewell...
Phillip Colombus checks the cows with his wife Mel and daughter Emily (14 months) on the Eyrewell farm, near Oxford, he manages for Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd. Supplied photo.

The winners of the Canterbury/North Otago New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards were announced two weeks ago. In the next few issues, reporter David Hill finds out what it takes to win the title. This week, he talks to farm manager Phillip Colombus. 

Oxford farm manager Phillip Colombus has the rare distinction of winning two different dairy industry awards.

The Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd Eyrewell dairy farm manager won the Canterbury/North Otago farm manager award in the region's dairy awards announced two weeks ago, having previously won dairy trainee of the year in 2006 in the Upper South Island region, which then covered from Timaru to Nelson.

''I was surprised just making the top six, let alone winning it,'' Mr Colombus said.

A city boy, Mr Colombus became a dairy farm worker in 2002, after leaving St Bede's College in Christchurch.

''My mother's two brothers were dairy farmers at Oamaru and Dunedin. Me and my brother used to go down and that's how we got into it.''

Mr Colombus joined Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd in June 2012, managing one of three farms at Eyrewell, near Oxford, and milking 1300 cows.

After the farm was damaged in last September's storm, the herd was cut back to 1280 cows. However, despite the setback, he said milk production was up on last season.

This season's target was 546,000kg of milk solids, but the farm was now on target to pass 580,000kgMS.

Given the farm was only cleared of trees two years ago, Mr Colombus said it had yet to reach its full potential.

He said Ngai Tahu Farming Ltd was the best employer he had worked for.

''Even though I won the award, it's a team effort. The farm is well laid out and an excellent conversion with great infrastructure, which allows us to do a top job and hit full potential.''

Mr Colombus managed three full-time staff, with a fourth person being employed from June, and some casual staff on a five days on, two days off roster, allowing him to spend one-on-one time training his staff.

The milking shed was fully automated, requiring just one person to operate it.

''I want to train these people up to work on more farms for Ngai Tahu. If I can pass on my knowledge, they are going to be invaluable for Ngai Tahu in the future.

''When you get out of bed at 3.30am, you don't want to go out to be average. You want to be the best.''

While his name was on the award, he said managing the farm was made easier with the help of his wife, Melissa, who was born and bred on a beef farm at Rotherham, near Culverden, and has a diploma in agriculture from Lincoln University.

The couple have a 14-month-old daughter, Emily, who enjoyed being out on the farm among the cows.

Mr Colombus said the couple's long-term goal was to own a 400-500 cow dairy farm ''and pay some other young fellow to run it and get the experience''.

''We wanted to be on a large farm, so we could learn all the skills, so when we go to a smaller farm of our own it will be easier. The self-management skills increase on a bigger farm because there's so many more opportunities.''

Rakaia farm manager Steve Veix was runner-up, while Jonathon and Stacey Hoets, also Rakaia farmer managers, were third.

Phillip Colombus will host a field day at 770 Carleton Rd, RD1, Oxford, 10.30am, on Tuesday, March 25.

Canterbury/North Otago sharemilker/equity farmers of the year Kevin and Sara O'Neill will host a field day at 324 Leslie Hills Rd, RD2, Waiau, on Tuesday, April 1, 10.30am.

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