‘Bit of everything’ for dairy trainee

Canterbury/North Otago’s dairy trainee of the year Monique Radford has a busy year ahead of her...
Canterbury/North Otago’s dairy trainee of the year Monique Radford has a busy year ahead of her including fitting in a marriage. PHOTO: TIM CRONSHAW
Here comes the bride — a young  woman moving fast in dairying has plenty on her plate, Tim Cronshaw writes.

Walking up the wedding aisle and becoming a farm manager are at the top of Canterbury/North Otago dairy trainee of the year Monique Radford’s tick-off list.

The 22-year-old herd manager was raised in the dairying community of Taranaki’s Stratford and at one stage was considering a career outside of dairying despite strong ties.

"I was born in Taranaki on a dairy farm and have been on a dairy farm my entire life.

"I feel my passion for dairy cattle really started through showing them.

"Throughout my school years all I wanted to do as a little girl was be a vet."

In her last year before graduating with an agricultural science degree at Massey University, she started looking for a job. Along the way, she came across the Grassroots programme fast-tracking smart youngsters into management.

Feeling this tied in with her ambitions, she successfully applied for the graduate programme.

One thing led to another and she got a job as a herd manager for contract milker Steven and Rosie Ketter on Leighton and Michelle Pyes’ 241ha farm early last year.

Growing into the role, she’s required to do a "bit of everything", and is taking charge more in areas such as pasture management and monthly shed hygiene checks.

"I really enjoy working with cows and getting outside every day is one of my favourite things.

"I enjoy the team I work with on the farm ... and they’re a good team of people who share the same passion.

"We can have really good discussions about things and I enjoy that.

"We’re all about the same age so we’re really good friends and we do things outside which is really good for on-farm [balance] as well."

Her swift scale up the initial rungs of the dairying ladder impressed judges in the region’s Dairy Industry awards to name her ahead of Harry Finch and third-placed Dan Griffins for the trainee title.

They singled out for her energy, methodical approach, passion and willingness to learn and improve.

At a field day in Southbridge celebrating the share farmer, manager and dairy trainee winners, Miss Radford revealed she had a couple of fast-approaching goals.

One of them is already locked in with a marriage ceremony set for March with her partner, also from Taranaki and working now in Ashburton.

"I’m getting married next year so that will be exciting and after the wedding I would really like to accumulate some stock, which would be cool."

Generously, her parents have offered to pay for their honeymoon flights to the Pacific, and another gift of sorts is also in the offing.

"I’m planning on buying at least five calves this season coming and, with money allowing, a few more in the next coming seasons, hopefully up to 15 or more over the next three seasons.

"I’m not sure where I’m going to buy them from yet, but Mum and Dad have offered some of their excess Jersey calves if I want them and pay for their grazing and potentially lease them to my parents or other people in Taranaki as in-calf 2-year-olds."

The other targets are to complete her first season as a herd manager and move up to farm manager on the same farm for the 2024/25 season.

"So, 100%, I’ve got a supportive employer and had some good mentors over the past year and made some good connections."

Further ahead, she’s keen to be contract milking at least 400 to 600 cows by the 2027/28 season and has the long-term vision of sharemilking and then owning their own farm one day.

Growing up exhibiting Jerseys at A&P shows and inspired by farmers with Jersey herds, she’s firm her eventual herd will be based on the breed and "make a success" of them.

"I really like Friesian-Holsteins as well.

"Beyond that farm ownership would be my very long-term end goal which would be pretty cool to achieve."

Many of her hobbies are in farm-related activities and she’s secretary of the local young farmers club and on the New Zealand Jersey Youth Council.

Her parents sharemilk a 200-cow dairy unit in Stratford and lease a 120-cow block from her mother’s parents.

Currently, she’s enjoying working with a Friesian-cross herd of 876 cows milked this season on the fully irrigated farm of about 240 effective hectares.

Miss Radford enjoys working outdoors with the cows and milking in a 54-bale rotary shed, but there’s one aspect she struggles with in dairying.

"I quite enjoy just getting right down to basics ever since I’ve been on-farm and the only thing I don’t really like is working when it is pouring down.

"I don’t really mind doing the jobs, it’s just everything is worse when it’s pouring down with rain."

To progress further, she’s completed milk quality and dairy effluent qualifications and a course on hoof trimming.

She also wants to complete an artificial-breeding course.

While the big goal of farm ownership lies years in the waiting, lifestyle and work balance are the main priorities at the moment as she looks to build on her career path.

For the more immediate quest of working her way into a contract milking position one day, she wants to build her people management skills.

Her parents run the farm on their own so she only lately become aware of this skill set since heading south.

"If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year it’s how important people are to a farming business. So I can see my skills in people management and that side of things aren’t really ready for the next step when it comes and need another career course so I can practise that."

Maintaining staff morale is something else she wants to pick up and improve.

Another lesson she’s learned is the importance of having a life-work balance and not confining oneself to the farm.

"One thing I was told is don’t let work be an excuse and I’ve had to repeat that to myself a couple of times when I haven’t felt like going to do something, but it definitely charges the batteries for the next day if you get off the farm."

She’s excited about the many opportunities ahead and working them out with her partner. After the marriage vows are exchanged, the Taranaki pair are keeping an open mind whether this may see them in their new home or return to their families.

"In the future, I’m looking to go contract milking in the next three to five years wherever life takes me to be honest.

"I’d be keen to go back to Taranaki at some stage, but me and my partner are really enjoying working down here.

"We’ve made a good group of friends so we will be looking at that."

Miss Radford encourages other women to take up dairying.

"My advice is just go for it — you just as capable as anyone else out there.

"If I’ve learned anything in the last year, you just have to work out how to do things for yourself.

"Yes, I might not be as strong as my manager, but I’ve worked out ways to do things and it might take me a couple of minutes longer, but I can still do it.

"Definitely just go for it and do it."