Exploring the farming life

After three and a half years working for Dairy NZ as a consulting officer for the Manawatu Horowhenua region, Kate Stewart has stepped out to experience the day-to-day realities of life on a dairy farm.

 At the beginning of the month, she began work as a farm assistant on a dairy farm in Linton, just out of Palmerston North. It’s a big change from working with farmers round the region as a Dairy NZ rep.

“I wanted to increase my practical knowledge on farm. I’m loving it, I’m loving being outside and working alongside the farm owners. It’s something I have always wanted to do.”

Kate says her transition into full-on farm life is really exciting but it has challenges. Most important is staying connected with others. Her previous job was very social, talking with lots of farmers every day.

“Farm life involves a real change in lifestyle. Working hours vary – there are different work rosters and sometimes you are working the weekend. You have to adapt and and make sure you don’t isolate yourself.  You have to keep doing the things that you really enjoy. This move is a big change for me, an exciting change, but it is very different from going into the office every morning.”

Kate is giving plenty of thought to getting the balance right. A former New Zealand Under-19 track cycling representative, she is keen to stay fit and has found ways to combine regular exercise and catching up with others.

“I play netball on a Saturday and I make sure I get my social squash on a Thursday.  Our Young Farmers Club has an indoor netball team on a Monday. Connecting with my netball girls and my Young Farmers Club and having a run around at the same time – that all works for me.”

Kate believes strongly in a healthy diet but admits “this is the hardest thing for me because I really like baking and cooking!  I make sure I have easy nutritious options on hand to fuel me. I noticed I was really hungry in my first week of dairy farming – I did some fencing which is a lot more physical than driving around and talking to farmers.”

Kate belongs to the Fitzherbert Young Farmers Club in Palmerston North which offers the opportunity for social connection with like-minded young people. It provides the chance to develop leadership skills and expand your farming knowledge through young farmer competitions.

“I also chair Taranaki Manawatu Young Farmers. Our role is to support the clubs and make sure they are operating well and providing members with the chance to get together and develop their skills through events like the FMG Young Farmer of the Year Contest.

“You learn a lot from contests like that. This year I competed in the regional final and I learned so much about things I don’t come across in my everyday job. For example, I had to put together a beehive and then the frames which I had never done before.”

Kate is currently involved in helping organise an exercise boot camp for young farmers in the area to get fit for calving. It’s a six-week programme which involves well-known farming identities Tangaroa Walker (Farm 4 Life) and Kane Brisco (Farm Fit).

It’s early days for this newcomer to farming but Kate is excited about what the future might bring. “I am in a real exploring phase. This is my year to really have a go and then I’ll reassess.”

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