First-timers take away top prize at dairy awards

Kevin and Kyla Freeman will contest the national final after winning the Share Farmer of the Year...
Kevin and Kyla Freeman will contest the national final after winning the Share Farmer of the Year category in their first appearance at the West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
First-time entrants Kevin and Kyla Freeman are the major winners at the West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Industry Awards.

The couple won the region’s Share Farmer of the Year category at the annual awards dinner in Shantytown last Thursday. The other big winners were Robyn Mare, who was named Dairy Manager of the Year, and Lisa Peeters is the South Dairy Trainee of the Year.

The Freemans are 50/50 share milkers on Mark and Julie Freeman’s 140 hectare Nelson farm milking 390 cows. They won nearly $11,000 in prizes and five merit awards.

"We entered the awards programme to look at every aspect of our business with others to critique," said Mr Freeman.

"It was a chance to analyse, learn and improve areas of weakness and identify areas of opportunities to grow."

He grew up on a dairy farm and went from being a qualified builder to second-in-charge for two years before sharemilking in 2020. Mrs Freeman grew up on a beef and crop farm in Canada.

The uncertainty around the payout was initially challenging when Covid-19 was just starting and banks weren’t lending freely.

But a positive attitude helps during the harder times.

"Hard days don’t last forever and there’s always something positive to look at in a day, especially happy cows full of milk."

They rate their low cost of production as one of their biggest strengths coupled with a higher production on a grass-based system. Their start-up herd produced 455 kilograms of milksolids a cow in their first season.

Now, they plan to work towards farm ownership.

The runner-up and third-placed positions were not awarded under the competition rules as there were only three share farmer finalists.

Mrs Mare (43) won $6500 in prizes and two merit awards.

The farm manager for Rob and Michelle Little on their 155ha, 310-cow Greymouth property is a former property valuer and entered the dairy industry full-time in 2017 as a farm assistant.

"I love cows and being outdoors in the elements working hard physically and mentally," she said. "I enjoy working with machinery but mostly it’s all about the cows who are beautiful, gentle animals."

The awards have encouraged her to think about her future and she will progress to contract milking next year and eventually plans to buy her own herd.

Runner-up was Coenraad Jacobus Groenewald, who immigrated to New Zealand in 2016 from South Africa and is a farm manager on the Pamu Farms’ 449ha, 900-cow Moana farm.

Third-placed was Gareth Evans, a farm manager for Kelvin and Heather McKay on their 81ha, 173-cow Greymouth property.

Ms Peeters is a herd manager for Mawhera Incorporation’s 240ha, 400-cow property in Hokitika. She won $6,300 in prizes and two merit awards.

She grew up on a family dairy farm in Canada where all cows are housed indoors, calve all-year round and milk twice-a-day all year. When that was sold she got into vet nursing.

The 28-year-old came to New Zealand after experiencing burnout, and as a work exchange student found a job on her current dairy farm.

"I hope to keep learning and progress to farm manager and maybe one day contract milker. I love animal health, animal genetics and animal longevity."

Runner-up in the dairy trainee category was 20-year-old 2IC Trinity Jackson, who works for Pamu Farms on its 443ha, 800-cow farm at Greymouth.

Third place went to 26-year-old herd manager Connor Shirley who is on Brent Riley’s 65ha, 200-cow farm at Collingwood.

The category winners will contest the national final in Christchurch on May 14.

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