Tararua Shepherd of the Year Kit Holmes exchanged life in England for a fresh start in New Zealand. Tony Leggett reports.

An English immigrant has taken out this year’s Tararua Shepherd of the Year title in a closely held final event.

Twenty-seven-year-old Kit Holmes arrived in New Zealand from England nine years ago on her gap year and fell in love with the country. She had travelled extensively with her family as a child and was not planning to stay in NZ for long.

But after taking in some of this country’s tourist spots, she landed a short-term role helping on a coastal Wairarapa cattle and sheep station and was soon hooked on a life on the land.

“New Zealand wasn’t a country I planned to stay in for long when I left England all those years ago. But it was English speaking and, although it sounds a bit clichéd to say it, I had seen the Lord of the Rings films and just had to see the place for myself,” Holmes said.

She credits the patience and support she received from her first boss for starting her on the path to her farming career.

“I just loved the horse work and mustering cattle, working with dogs. It was such a different lifestyle to what I’d left in the UK.”

Kit works as a shepherd on a sheep, beef and deer farm owned by Mike Thomas, near Dannevirke. She has also set up her own dog training business, taking on mostly farm dog pups to get them started, and is engaged to be married in February next year.

Chairing the Dannevirke Young Farmers Club caps a very busy life.

Kit was one of three women out of the four shepherds who contested the final stages of the title.

“I’m so pleased to see young women being given the chance to show what they can do.”

“There aren’t as many opportunities available for women to work on farms, but when we get the experience, we can show our strengths. We’re easier on gear and we get more out of our dogs than a lot of male shepherds.”

All four finalists were put through their paces at the practical and interview phase held at Pukemiro Station, east of Dannevirke, in early April. Each module was allocated a set time for completion, so there was time pressure as well as points allocated based on each component of the activity.

The sheep module involved yarding, weighing and drenching a mob of ewe lambs with a new drench product. For the cattle module, the shepherds had to draft out killable heifers from a mob, weigh them and assess their likely yield, then drench those returning to the paddock. They were given 30 minutes for the fencing module which involved digging a post and running out a two-wire electric fence.

The other finalists were Eilish O’Neill and Josie Malgrew, two recent graduates from Otiwhiti Station’s cadet training school at Hunterville, and Connor McIntyre, who graduated from Pukemiro’s cadet scheme last year.

The total prize pool is more than $5000 of cash and products, including oilskin vests and fuel vouchers. Each finalist in the 2021 event also received a six-month subscription to Country-Wide.