Down to earth farm manager flying high

WINTER: Michael Shearer is the 2014 Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year.
WINTER: Michael Shearer is the 2014 Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year.

Taranaki's 2014 Farm Manager of the Year took up dairy farming to save money for his pilot's licence.

But when Michael Shearer found he could progress so quickly in the dairy industry, his desire to become a pilot fell by the wayside.

The 21-year-old has previously tasted success in the New Zealand Dairy Awards. In 2012 he was third in the national Dairy Trainee of the Year competition after he secured the West Coast Top of the South regional title.

He won the Taranaki title in his first season on a dairy farm in the region, where he's managing a 360-cow, 110ha farm near Kapuni for Steven and Ann Nicholas. He'll remain there for at least another season.

It's not far from James Murphy's Upper Glenn Rd farm where Taranaki Dairy Trainee of the Year Ben Frost is second-in-charge. Close by are the winners of the Taranaki Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year, Charlie and Jody McCaig who are variable order sharemilkers on Taranaki Community Rugby Trust's farm at Inaha.

Growing up on a 10ha hobby farm near Nelson, Shearer knew he liked farming and saw a job in the industry as an opportunity to save up for a flying career. He was surprised at how fast he was able to advance in the industry and how much he enjoyed being given responsibility.

This season he started work in Taranaki because it appealed as an area offering career opportunities within a supportive environment.

"And I didn't want to milk 1000 cows in the South Island. Taranaki's built for dairying with its land and soils. Everyone's farming around here, so there's good interaction and support.

"This farm is all flat which makes for easier pasture management and the farm layout means short walks to the dairy shed. The good size dairy shed allows for quick milkings and more time for other work."

The biggest change for him this season was being responsible for staff on the farm, which is on target to produce 140,000kg milksolids, 400kg MS/cow.

Ten hectares of maize and 4ha of turnips were grown on the farm this season and 160 bales of baleage were also produced. "Maize is a vital part of the system in autumn and winter."

When he won the Top of the South award in 2012, he was working on a 110ha (effective) dairy farm at Tapawera, south of Nelson. Last season he was herd manager on a 115ha (effective) farm in the Marlborough Sounds.

He and wife Cheryl are now looking to buy a 240-cow farm on the South Island's west coast in an equity partnership with his parents. If that doesn't happen, he has the option of a variable order sharemilking position on the Nicholas property. The couple have a three-month-old son called Clayton.

Shearer said his success in the competition had given him confidence in his own ability and to step up into management. "It opens opportunities and doors."

He said he monitored and managed pasture on the farm with regular farm walks which allowed him to prepare good feed budgets. He also focused on animal husbandry. "Healthy animals produce well.

"Look after them and they will look after you."

Somatic cell count for the season will average 90,000 and there have been only six lame cows. His challenge now is monitoring pasture cover, cow condition and feed on hand during the current dry spell.

"We have a summer dry in Nelson, so I'm comfortable with managing a dry spell. It's still quite green here, compared to what I'm used to."

Taranaki Daily News