Dairying offers career path and family lifestyle to young farmers
Clay and Joy Paton's dairy career is gaining traction as they prepare to take over managing a 550–cow farm in Golden Bay next month.
For Clay, 24, the move from being an assistant manager on Brent and Michelle Reilly's Dovedale farm comes on the heels of being named the national Dairy Trainee of the Year at the Dairy NZ Awards earlier this month. He took home around $11,000 in prizes and also won the Best Video award, made with the help of friend Rowan Grey.
Dairying was not Clay's first career choice.
He studied landscape architecture at Lincoln University for 18 months before he and Joy took up a three month contract on a dairy support farm near Alexandra, in Central Otago in 2013.
The 570 hectare the farm carried 600 mixed–aged cows on fodder beet, 600 mixed–aged heifers on kale and 600 cows on grass along with 3000 ewes on swedes and grass.
"By the end of it Joy and I were running the dairy side," Paton said.
While Joy's parents had been sharemilkers, and she had worked on dairy farms, it was Clay's first taste of dairying – and he loved it.
"I can work from home and be alongside my family.
"The resources from Dairy NZ are fantastic. Being involved with the awards, what you are exposed to, the people and the industry support – it's amazing."
Dairying offered entrants a career path and a chance to build capital in a short time, he said.
"As a young person in the industry Fonterra, and its philosophy in terms of milk and global need, makes me confident there will be somewhere to sell my milk when I am 40."
Joy said the dairy industry worked for young families. "You really get a decent shot."
However, not enough young New Zealanders were selecting dairying as a career, he said.
"Part of the reason I made the video was to get young New Zealanders passionate about the industry."
The other was to help improve the public's perception and understanding of dairy farmers, he said.
People who had never been on a farm did not have a clue about the reality of farming, he said.
"But there are young people in the industry, like myself, who will be doing what they can to increase the awareness of the industry."
Paton said 95 per cent of farmers did the right thing in terms of effluent management, animal husbandry, hygiene and milk quality.
"But there are always some who drop the ball."
Joy said dairying allowed them to grow their own business
"When the kids are at school it will be us working together to achieve our goals."
"Right now it is a good family lifestyle. We can walk up to the cow shed and hang out with Clay for the afternoon.
"And though Clay doesn't get every weekend off he probably sees his kids more than a someone driving to work.
"It really is a family lifestyle job," she said.
Family played an important part in the couple's decision to move to the Golden Bay farm, which is also owned by the Reilly's.
"We are looking forward to the community side of things, the young farmer group and there are lots of families like us with younger kids," Clay said.
And it was also a step along their planned path to one day owning their own farm.