By Sam Jaquiery
Temptation got the better of Sam Henson on a few occasions and he was enticed out of dairy farming by the promise of more money or the rare luxury of weekends off.
But it never took him long to realise where his true passion was and he is now in his third venture in the sector, managing 350 cows in Himatangi, Manawatū.
He enjoys the freedom and chances to succeed and appreciates the opportunities and lifestyle of dairying.
“I like the flexibility that dairy farming offers. If there’s something on during the day I can make it work to be able to go, and I enjoy not being micromanaged,” Henson says.
“But ultimately I enjoy being able to get the results I want.”
He grew up on a sheep and beef farm and did an automotive course after secondary school, thinking he would become a mechanic. But he got a relief milking job and decided to give farming a crack.
“By the end of my course, I was offered a full-time farming role. It was a three-month fixed-term cover till the end of the season then I went straight into another job across the road on a split calving farm.”
He quickly moved from a farm assistant into a 2IC role, and onto managing another farm nearby soon after. But after a couple of seasons managing he decided to leave farming and head to Australia to work in warehousing and experience a different life.
“I needed a break from farming. I didn’t want to work weekends anymore and the pay was pretty good in Australia. I had a few good friends over there and I was ready for a change,” he says.
A couple of years down the track a friend approached him to return to New Zealand to help with a farm going through receivership in Waikato. Henson was only in a 2IC role, but there were 1700 cows and a few staff to manage.
It sparked his interest in farming again but he decided he would rather head back to Manawatū to be closer to family. By then he had his daughter Lucy to consider and knew a farming lifestyle worked well with family life.
His favourite role was managing a 650-cow farm in Rangiwahia, not a typical dairying area but it offered a great lifestyle for a keen hunter and he immersed himself in the community.
A few years down the track he and his partner, Paula Simpson, decided to invest in property and wanted more time to spend with the kids. By this point, they had the twins, Max and Mason, too.
He took a role with Frank Construction, and they moved closer to town. His role involved concrete polishing, waterproofing and installing jail doors. It kept things interesting, and Henson was dumbfounded at the idea of having so much time off over Christmas.
“At the beginning of December, the boss said we’d wrap up on the 20th and wouldn’t come back till the end of January. It was a different experience,” Henson says.
But, “although that was a great change of lifestyle, I missed being outside, so after a couple of years when the owners of the Rangiwahia farm rang for a hand, it was a great segue back”.
He filled in for three months between a manager leaving and sharemilker starting, then moved on to his role in Himatangi.
“Now I’ve got the best of both worlds. We’re in a more convenient location for the family and juggling the kids’ activities, and I’m back on the farm.”
This is his fourth season in Himatangi. He has one team member, and they are operating a System 3. It is mostly pasture based with some palm kernel and maize when needed.
“I do enjoy being able to go home for lunch and although they’re at school during the day it’s good to see the kids more in school holidays and make it to their events.”
Over the years he has looked at sharemilking roles but he has ended up thankful he never took them, like when the payout hit $3.90/kg MS. He would consider it if the right job came up, or possibly contract milking, but he is still determining the risk of taking on large amounts of debt.
“I enjoy what I do, I’m happy with running a farm successfully and I appreciate the opportunities across the industry.
“Dairying is a great way to build equity, particularly if you want to buy property. You can earn, build up KiwiSaver while not paying rent, for example.
“And funnily enough there are fewer rules and regulations than other industries.”
This article first appeared in the September edition of our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.