Anne Lee

Trying to manage the roster over the peak summer period can be a headache with everyone on the team hoping for a chance to throw on the Jandals and head to the beach or river for a break.

The tougher days of spring and mating are in the rear-view mirror but cows still have to be milked and the show goes on, albeit at a more even pace.

Meanwhile keen, smart, young students have also emerged from exams with another year of student debt, dwindling bank balances and a need to fill practical work requirements for their courses.

Lincoln University practical work co-ordinator Barbara Nicholson is the match maker of sorts.

She keeps a data base of farmers who may want to take on a student over their summer break from University sending them an email earlier in the year to remind them students are available and keen to work.

‘Some love to hear about what the latest thinking is on different farming subjects and what the students are being taught – some say they learn quite a bit from the students themselves and we get ex-students taking on students a lot too.’

“Years ago any jobs coming in from farmers were written up on cards and posted on a board.

“Now I post them up electronically on the students’ LEARN site,” Barbara says.

For those who haven’t had school age children in the past 10 years – it’s an internet-based platform where students and teachers log in to post information and communicate.

Farmers can advertise their jobs by sending the information to Barbara or phoning her.

“I encourage them to be a bit creative with their ads for a job.

“Photos of the farm, the shed or house – sometimes we even get videos.”

There are always more jobs than students available, even though there are plenty of students who need to top up the bank balance and get their practical work done to complete their degrees or diplomas.

So farmers need to get their ads in early – don’t wait till November, she warns.

Once the ad is posted on the LEARN site it’s up to the students to make contact with the farmers and it’s a normal employment situation from there.

Barbara and the university don’t manage that employment relationship but provide the students with the forms they and their farmer employers need to fill out to validate the practical work requirement of the work.

“I do get feedback from students and the farmers though.

“Farmers often say they like to take on the students because they’re reliable and they’re interested and keen.

“Some love to hear about what the latest thinking is on different farming subjects and what the students are being taught – some say they learn quite a bit from the students themselves and we get ex-students taking on students a lot too.

“You get those that enjoy fostering the next generation and really take them under their wing.

“I always tell the students to make the most of the opportunity, they can meet people who become friends for life and become great contacts for them later on.

“It’s often a win/win situation with both parties gaining something from it,” she says.

Tony Williams sharemilks 1350 cows at Killinchy, about 30km from the university and employs six staff.

“We’re trying to give the staff a break over the Christmas and summer and with the way the rosters are – eight on, three off, eight on, two off when we have one away on holiday we can end up with three off.

“If we have one or two students it makes it a lot easier on those not on holiday having them around and can even give them a bit of a break out of the shed too.

“We’ve found the students are normally pretty enthusiastic and want to learn – they can be like big sponges,” he laughs.

As part of their practical work requirement they are likely to have to write a project report to show they understand how the farm system works so they’re looking to learn a bit more than what’s entailed in the tasks they might mostly do on farm.

Tony says students will often have some experience but if not, they’re quick learners and have a good bit of common sense.

He runs a five and two roster for the students he has this year, Bachelor of Agriculture student Hine Mullany (about to go into the third year of her degree) and Bachelor of Agricultural Science student Kaitlin Wilson (about to go into the second year of her degree).

One has Friday and Saturday off while the other has Sunday and Monday off.

Both live off farm and start most mornings at 7.30am although some days they’re needed earlier to bring one of the herds in.

He runs three herds and while a big chunk of Hine and Kaitlin’s work day will be milking, they also set up breaks, feed out on the tractor and have been helping with animal health work, vaccinating and drenching calves.

Hine says she needs 28 weeks of practical work for her degree and she’s already done some dairying along with almost a year working for PGG Wrightson.

From Christchurch, she’s found the practical work helped her immensely with her studies going into her second year.

“A lot of things make more sense when you’ve seen how they work – not just reading about them on paper.”

Kaitlin is from a sheep and beef farming background in Fairlie and this summer is her first practical work placement for dairying.

“We’ve been focused on the science through the year so it’s good to get on farm and see the practical side and find out how it works in practice.”

For Lincoln students: To contact Barbara and advertise for a student for next summer email practicalwork@lincoln.ac.nz

For Massey University students: James Millner, Dean of Agriculture, takes potential employers details and puts them on the Stream site for Massey agri students. Email him at: j.p.millner@massey.ac.nz