Most New Zealanders picture a shepherd as being a ‘good Kiwi bloke’, surrounded by dogs, driving an ATV and patrolling vast high country stations.
But a growing number of shepherds are now young women who are seizing the opportunity to make a name for themselves in our sheep and beef industry.
Anna Sutton is only 22 years-old but has worked as a shepherd for the past four years. She is the third generation of her family to farm in the Otago region and currently works on a 430ha farm in Moeraki.
“A lot of people might think that farming is a really male dominated industry but it’s become more and more popular for young women. I think if you’re a girl and you’re umming and ahhing as to whether you want to do it, just go for it. If you’re willing to learn, try your best and put the effort in, I think you’ll love it.”
Anna is among a large group of women who are now shepherding in north Otago. “I think a lot of older fellas like the fact girls seem to take more care with stock. That more nurturing caring side comes through. To be honest there are certain jobs that do require a bit more physical strength but I just think a girl finds another way to do it. She’ll still get the job done.”
Shepherds are often spoilt for choice in today’s job market but Anna points out that good employers and good employees can still be hard to find. She enrolled with Primary ITO soon after she got her first shepherding job to help upskill herself, improve her CV and set her career on the right track.
“I’ve done my Level 3 animal husbandry certificate and I’m currently doing a Level 4 sheep and beef paper on breeding. I feel like I’ve gained knowledge from the courses that you don’t always get from work. Studying is also a great way to meet new people and make new friends. It’s always interesting seeing what their farm is doing compared to yours at different times of the year.”
Anna attends class in Mosgiel once a month and says the support she’s received from her employer, Primary ITO training advisor and tutor has been fantastic.
“If I’m ever stuck on something, I can ask any of them for help and we work our way through it. You need to have a supportive boss if you’re going to study otherwise you feel like you’re going it alone. The training advisors and tutors are great but the only other person who knows what’s happening on farm is your boss so it’s important they are able to support you.”
Overall, Anna says she’s thankful she’s chosen this career path.
“I love being outdoors and I love that I get to do something different every day. My dogs are my passion. They’re what I enjoy the most about my job but anything animal health-related is great. I do enjoy tractor work as well and everything else that comes along with it.”
Summer days can be long and busy. Starting at 7:30am, Anna will be hard at work drenching lambs, moving stock or making baleage for next year. In winter it’s a little more relaxed, with her days consisting of shifting breaks for stock, feeding, fencing and other odd jobs. “It’s a really wide variety.”
Anna intends to continue studying with Primary ITO alongside fulltime work, and hopes to one day land a management position.
“In this day and age a qualification is vital. Having actually done study or written work is really important. It definitely helps you with knowledge but also looks good on your CV so you can apply for those management roles. It shows you can commit to something and finish it, and put your best effort in.”
Primary ITO sheep, beef and deer qualifications are available here.