Life is busy for one of NZ's top sharemilkers

SUE O'DOWD
Last updated 05:00 22/08/2014
Jody McCaig always finds time for a hug with sons Finley, 2, and Miles, 7 months.
SUE O'DOWD/Fairfax NZ
BUSY MUM: Jody McCaig always finds time for a hug with sons Finley, 2, and Miles, 7 months.

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As a young man about town, Miles McCaig has already made the acquaintance of a number of dignitaries and been a guest at a few fancy dinners.

Now seven months old, he's often stolen the show at functions where his parents, Jody and Charlie McCaig, have won awards or were guests of honour.

The couple were variable-order sharemilkers on the Taranaki Community Rugby Trust (TRCT) farm at Inaha, near Manaia, when they won the coveted New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year title this year.

The first step to the New Zealand title was winning the Taranaki contest, with the first round of judging in January.

That was a sure test of the young mother's organisational skills. Not only did she and her husband spend hours preparing their presentation for the judges, she was also breastfeeding their newborn son, Miles, then just three weeks old and caring for their other son, Finley, then 18 months.

Jody McCaig said Fabian Milham, who was working for the couple as second in charge at Inaha, was of enormous assistance at the end of her pregnancy, and after Miles' birth.

"He made it so easy for us because he was just so available to help out on the farm.

"We'd done three-quarters of the presentation before Christmas, but it was constantly evolving," she said.

"There was a lot of preparation. We had a lineup of people, family and friends to help with childcare. There were some logistical challenges too."

The two-hour judging required presentations and a farm tour, so a vehicle large enough for the judging panel and the young couple also had to be arranged.

The pair went through a second round of judging three weeks later, when Miles was 6 weeks old and in the middle of a growth spurt that required extra feeding.

"I just fed him and handed him over to my mother," she recalled.

Her mother, Elva Symons, of Rahotu, has given lots of child-care assistance to the couple. "She's been a big part of all that's happened in the last year."

On to success at the Taranaki awards dinner and getting organised for yet another round of judging for the New Zealand title early in May.

"I'm not sure if I would have done it if I had realised what it would be like," she said, as she recalled the demands of keeping the presentations up to date and caring for her sons.

But the couple had done it all before, so that helped. As winners of the 2011 Taranaki Farm Manager of the Year title, and national runners-up, they knew the work required.

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"We were working on [the 2014 presentation] a year in advance. So we were pleased the win made it all worthwhile."

After the judging, they headed to Auckland for the New Zealand Dairy Awards dinner, which marked the 25th anniversary of the New Zealand Sharemilker of the Year.

Taranaki sharemilkers Kevin and Diane Goble, now of Okato, were the inaugural winners of the national title, so the McCaigs were sentimental favourites for a contest that had its beginnings in Taranaki in 1977.

Miles, by then 4 months old, attended the dinner.

"He's a veteran of the judging, the young man about town because he went to all the functions," Jody McCaig said.

"He was the only baby at the dinner, and I was wondering what I was going to do with him. But all the contestants shared him. I wasn't the odd one out, because quite a few took a fancy to him. He was very well looked after."

New Zealand Dairy Awards finalists attended the National Fieldays in Hamilton in June, so baby Miles joined the McCaigs there, too. Meeting their fellow contestants again, they found many wanted to help out with his care.

At an Agresearch dinner, the couple made a presentation and left Miles in the care of a number of dignitaries, including Minister for Primary Industries (MPI) Nathan Guy, DairyNZ chief executive Tim Mackle, Agresearch chief executive Tom Richardson and MPI director-general Martyn Dunne. "Women on the neighbouring table kept an eye on him as well," she said.

Baby Miles has also been a guest at other functions, including a South Taranaki mayoral reception that recognised the McCaigs' success and Federated Farmers' national conference in Palmerston North. Along the way there have also been lots of media interviews.

"He's had lots of experiences in his short life," his mother said. "He copes with going to anyone at any time. He's not shy."

In June, the couple moved from the TRCT farm to take up their first 50/50 sharemilking position on Ian and Judith Armstrong's 79ha Waiteika Rd farm near Opunake. They're milking a 240-cow herd they bought from the farm's previous sharemilkers.

Production has previously been around 90,000kg milksolids (MS) and they're hoping to produce 100,000kg milksolids this season. Calving started at the beginning of this month and they're about three-quarters of the way through.

The move to the farm - their fourth in five years - was another big event in the family's life.

"Here's to all the people who shifted their families, their animals and their businesses, and started a new job all in the same weekend," she noted at the time.

Her role now, with the children in tow, is raising the couple's calves, so she spends an hour or two twice a day in the calf shed.

She's also getting to grips with running a 50/50 sharemilking business, which she's finding more complex than being variable-order sharemilkers.

They'll employ their Welsh worker, Gwyn Evans, until December, when milking in the 28-bail rotary shed will be able to be done by one person. She'll be able to work in the shed to give her husband a break and to give herself a change.

Jody McCaig grew up on the coast and attended Opunake High School.

Her brother and sister-in-law, Matt and Megan Symons, and their four children live close by.

"So we've already got connections within the community," she said.

She looks forward to becoming involved in local activities and with the Opunake Playcentre.

- Taranaki Daily News

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