Friday, December 8, 2023

Tackling farming boots and all

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A former international rugby player who once played for the All Blacks, decided to end his stellar career and hang his boots to return to his farming roots. Gerard Hutching reports.
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For George Whitelock a decade-long professional rugby career had a myriad benefits: a secure income, world travel, paths to leadership and friendships forged with a cross-section of Kiwi society. 

But in terms of dairy farming, the pay-off has related to the way in which performance was measured on and off the sports field, and how that has translated into his new business.  

“What drives you when you’re a sportsman is that when you play every week, with technology you get all the improvements from watching video clips and varying your performance,” George said. 

“With farming I get great satisfaction every day knowing what’s going out the gate and I can judge myself and ask ‘what did I do well today or not so well’ – it’s so measurable. That challenge drives me, and it’s why I’m so passionate about dairying.”

Growing up on the family farm at Linton just outside of Palmerston North, George is the eldest of four boys. All have performed in rugby with distinction. They all played junior rugby for Palmerston North High School Old Boys’ Rugby Football Club and later, George, Sam and Luke made it into the All Blacks and became the first trio of siblings to play for the All Blacks. All four brothers played for the Crusaders and Adam also played for the NZ Sevens. 

Whitelock debuted for Otago in 2007 against Southland playing in all but two of their matches that season. The following year he transferred to Canterbury and in his first year was part of the team which won the 2008 NPC. In 2009, he was named captain and led the Canterbury team through one of its most successful periods becoming the only player to captain a side to five NPC titles in a row. 

He was also captain when Canterbury lifted the Ranfurly Shield from Wellington in 2009.

So was it something in the Manawatu water that drove the Whitelock boys to succeed on the rugby pitch?

Kayla and Maxwell with a newborn calf.

Rugby and farming are also similar in that you are always setting goals he says.

“It is about focussing on the job ahead and setting yourself a target to get X, Y Z done so you can achieve that target.

“In rugby it might be something like winning the next line out ball and in farming it might be something as small as fixing a fence. Little things all help to achieve the bigger picture goal.”

Away from the farm and the gym, he and Kayla spend as much time as possible with Addison and Maxwell.

When he can, George will head off for a day of fishing or hunting or supporting Kayla at games or practice.

Rugby is still a big part of his life. He is considering taking up coaching and often found himself being an armchair referee and critic.

“Yes I do sit there and yell at the television. Especially when the referee makes a decision I do not agree with, urging the boys to run faster and et cetera,” he said.

Looking ahead, he and Kayla eventually want to step up to farm ownership.

“Hopefully we can make that happen for our next step. In the meantime, we are continuing to work towards our goals, raise our family and do the best we can for our cows, team and the farm.”

Farm Facts

Owners: B and C Whitelock 

Leasee: George and Kayla Whitelock

Location: Linton, Manawatu

Farm Size: 346ha

Cows: 1100 F12 Friesian 

Production: 2019- 2020: 520,000kg/MS

Target: 2020-2021: 500,000kg/MS

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