Working with scientists has been a great experience for an enthusiastic young agricultural science graduate, as Ann-Marie Case-Miller explains.
Grace Gibberd makes an impression from the moment you meet her. She’s warm, friendly and articulate and it’s soon evident she possesses a broad general knowledge as the conversation flows from the Chiefs rugby woes to her thoughts on the future of the dairy industry in New Zealand.
It’s nothing less than you’d expect from the Waikato woman who was named 2020 Dairy Trainee of the Year at the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards televised event in July.
The 22-year-old grew up on a lifestyle block in Horotiu with “a house cow, some beefies and a few pet sheep.”
It was in Year 13 at Hamilton Christian School that her future was determined when she chose ag science over PE.
“It felt like a risky decision at the time because I didn’t know if I’d even like ag science. However, I knew I wanted an outdoors job and that a degree would be a good way to give me a crash course on all things farming.”
Grace received a DairyNZ undergraduate scholarship and is grateful to her DairyNZ mentor for the support and encouragement during her time of study.
“I did have people ask me why I was ‘doing a degree to go farming’ when I could just go farming. I like science and I knew that I could apply that farming knowledge to other careers like soil science or agronomy if dairying didn’t work out.”
But it has worked out – and very well. The first-time entrant into the Awards won the Waikato Dairy Trainee title in March and went on to win the national title as well as Federated Farmers Farming Knowledge and DairyNZ Practical Skills merit awards.
“I was so excited when it was announced national judging was going ahead. I knew it would be a challenge for the organisers and I really respected their decision to go ahead and make online judging work.”
The national judges said Grace displayed an exceptional overall understanding and general knowledge and was clear, confident and articulate with her answers. They predict Grace will be a great ambassador and role model for the dairy industry.
“That was an amazing comment and I felt a bit of pressure, but not in a bad way,” says Grace. “I thought that was so cool that they could see that, and I hope that I can just live up to the expectation and be a good role model for the dairy industry.”
Her science degree has stood her in good stead in her role as a farm assistant at DairyNZ’s 115ha research farm in Newstead, on the outskirts of Hamilton.
“Being able to understand what scientists are talking about when they’re speaking science language is extremely helpful! I definitely don’t know everything and have to ask a lot of questions, but having that science background helps,” Grace explains.
“I think it’s helpful to have a bit more knowledge behind the why and knowing what the scientists are actually looking for and understanding the possible benefits of doing a trial.”
“Having these trials on a real farm scenario means we have an incredibly detailed picture of what each cow is like, on paper. We herd test weekly and body condition score every fortnight so we know what each cow is producing in terms of solids and protein.”
“There is a lot of data that is recorded every day and scientists are able to go into the database and choose cows for their trials based on what characteristics they’re looking for.”
The farm employs seven staff managing 360 cows, including 10 herds of 14 cows who are part of a three-year Forage Value Index (FVI) Validation trial looking at pasture production and whether the difference in pasture production actually equates to a difference in milk yield and therefore profit for the farmer.
“FVI is a rating system for grass that has been created based on plot trial data, and the trial on our farm is the validation of those trials in a real-life farm situation,” explains Grace.
“With ten herds of 14 cows all the on-farm jobs take a lot longer, such as feeding out or even bringing the cows in for milking. It’s extra work but I wouldn’t swap it for the world.”
The herds are identified by coloured collars and Grace says communication amongst the team is key, especially in the 44-bail rotary milking shed.
“Our systems are pretty thorough and everybody’s got to pull together. We have a lot of herd changes during milking and it helps to have someone there to call out ‘last cow’ and someone else can change the gates.”
“We’re a young team and we have a lot of fun.”
Living off-farm and flatting with friends who work outside the dairy industry means Grace has introduced farm life to people from all walks of life. “I think there’s a perception from people who don’t have anything to do with the industry that farming is just farming.”
“It’s awesome to show them our community within the industry and that we celebrate success because farming’s not like a normal workplace,” says Grace. “Our community is quite unique to the dairy industry.”
Grace balances her time off-farm by pursuing sports and is enjoying playing netball this season. She enjoys watching rugby and is at a loss to explain the Chiefs rugby woes this season. “They have a good coach and a good captain who should be able to get them all on the same page!”
She loves music, sings and plays piano. “Over lockdown I tried to teach myself the guitar but I definitely need to practise more than I do!”
Grace encourages any young person considering dairying as a career to give it a go. “You don’t know until you try. There are plenty of people in the dairy industry willing to teach young people, and the GoDairy initiative from DairyNZ is a perfect way to get involved.”
GoDairy is designed to attract people to work in the dairy sector and offers Farm Ready Training, which is entry-level training to help people find out what it’s like to work on a farm and learn some farming basics. There is a big emphasis on ensuring newcomers understand farm life before they arrive. Anyone interested in taking part can sign up at godairy.co.nz.
“As farmers, if we continue to care for our people, animals, and the environment then we should be so proud of the quality dairy products that we help produce,” says Grace. “One thing I’m looking forward to is seeing how technology in farming changes as time progresses – there’s heaps of new ideas on the horizon all the time and it’ll be interesting to see what farming looks like 20 years from now.”
TOP 3 SONGS ON COWSHED SPOTIFY PLAYLIST:
Need to Breathe – Brother
Six60 – Rolling Stone
Joy Invincible – Switchfoot
WOULD YOU CHOOSE AN AFTERNOON WITH THE COWS OR A HOT DATE WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND?
Can I take my boyfriend on a date to the farm to spend time with the cows?
WHAT ARE THREE ITEMS FROM THE FARM YOU’D WANT ON A DESERTED ISLAND?
- One of the pet cows from the farm
- Tractor to do some digging and build a shelter
BEST SLOW COOKER RECIPE DURING CALVING?
I make a really nice slow cooked pork roast, which is a little bit spicy and so yum. Anything in the slow cooker is good though. I love nice tender meat in the slow cooker and it’s great because you can put it on in the morning and not have to think or prepare too much when you get home.
TOP TIP FOR SURVIVING CALVING?
It can be really hard to do, but make sure you get plenty of sleep!
FAVOURITE WAY TO RELAX OFF-FARM?
I like being outdoors on a bush walk or, if the weather isn’t so nice, in front of the fire with a good book.
LOVE ISLAND OR COUNTRY CALENDAR?
Definitely Country Calendar!