When Hayley Hoogendyk was offered a fulltime job as a farm assistant, she told her new employer he was “mad”.
She knew nothing about farming and had no experience other than a brief stint as a relief milker. “I had worked out the back end of a cow, but that was about it. But he just wanted to hire someone who was reliable and on to it.”
The Massey University graduate was struggling to find work as an event manager at the time, so decided to give farming a go.
But her new career choice was laughed at by her family, friends and new colleagues. “I was told by others I was a small skinny girl who couldn’t handle farming. I’ve really enjoyed proving everyone wrong.”
So wrong, in fact, that five years on she was named ‘Dairy Manager of the Year’ at the 2017 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards.
So how did a girl from Mount Maunganui end up as farm manager for Passey Farm Ltd, a 200ha 540 cow property in Kairanga, near Palmerston North?
The key to her success has been people skills, and working hard to upskill and support those around her.
“I was nervous about going into a leadership role at the start of this year. I’ve been a farm assistant and worked my way up. I’ve had good managers and average managers along the way, and I’ve learned something from each of them. I just thought about how I liked to be treated. I also stopped and thought ‘what do they want to get out of me?’”
The 29 year-old has undertaken an ambitious course of study through Primary ITO since first enrolling in 2013. While working on various farms, she’s completed qualifications on effective supervision, effluent management planning, milk quality, feeding and pastures, GrowSafe, and her New Zealand Apprenticeship Level 4 Dairy Farming.
She’s now half way through her Level 5 Diploma in Agribusiness Management.
“Primary ITO gives you a deeper understanding of how we do things, how to do them properly and how it affects the business as a whole.”
She says the friends and contacts she has made among her classmates and tutors have been invaluable. While the topics covered in class give her the opportunity to address those issues on farm or prompt a discussion with the property’s owners.
“There’s always something different to think about and so much information to learn. These papers show you other ways of doing things so you can critique and improve your own system which is great.”
Hayley’s future plans are firmly focused on helping others to thrive. She’s particularly interested in encouraging more youngsters into the dairy industry and changing perceptions about this career pathway.
“At the moment the general attitude among teachers and career advisors is that farming is for students who aren’t academic and have no other options. I really want to change that opinion. It’s a very hands-on, varied industry and if you’re a switched-on person you can go a long way pretty quickly.
She believes New Zealand farmers spend a lot of time and money on genetics and young stock to future-proof their herd but they often forget that young people need the same attention to future-proof the dairy industry.
“Ultimately, I see myself overseeing multiple farms, and employing young people, to give them their first opportunity,” Hayley says. “I would also like to have first-time managers and contract milkers so I can support them and help them learn and embrace new opportunities.”