Thursday, November 30, 2023

How a Kiwi found love and ignited his farming passion abroad

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A Southland farmer found the lure of the land and dairy farming stronger than any urge to sit behind a desk.
Hayden Diack met his French wife Alienor while on his OE. They are now lower-order sharemilking 850 cows in Mokoreta, Southland.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

Getting more than he bargained for on his OE, a Southland farmer returned from a short stint in the United Kingdom with a lovely French lady and a newfound passion for farming. 

Footy and farming had lured Hayden Diack overseas, where he played rugby in Edinburgh for six months then managed a beef farm in the south of England. He had intended to chase a dream job in meat marketing when he got back to New Zealand, but he found farming was too hard to give up.

“I was working on Dad’s sheep farm after I got back and realised how much I love being outside on the farm,” Diack  says.

So he gave up the idea of the office job and landed himself a role managing a sheep and beef block. But when he started looking for growth opportunities he struggled to find anything viable.

“We were looking for equity growth opportunities but Dad’s farm was too small and it’s very difficult to get started in dry stock farming with nothing behind you,” he says.

“Our banker suggested dairy farming as it was a quick way to grow equity.”

Fast-forward three years and he and his now-wife, Alienor, are lower-order sharemilking 850 cows in Mokoreta, Southland. And Diack says he is earning two and half times what he would have as a sheep farm manager.

“It’s been a whirlwind but I think it’s outstanding what we’ve been able to do in the dairy industry, there are just so many more opportunities.”

When he started exploring dairying he found an opening on a nearby farm in Wyndham with Robin and Lois Greer while their manager was heading away for a season. He started some relief milking locally to get a bit of experience before he took the leap. Before that, he had rarely set foot on a dairy farm.

“I wanted to get some experience under my belt before I stepped straight into a manager’s role,”  Diack says.

“And it was a big change starting dairying, but I really enjoyed those first 12 months. I love the technical aspect of dairy farming.”

They were milking 420 cows on a once-a-day system, which was nice and relaxed to give Diack a chance to find his feet. The following season he moved to a larger-scale farm near Woodlands as a manager for Blair and Brooke McKenzie, milking 1100 cows. He had a team to manage for the first time too.

“It was a great experience, I learnt a lot from the McKenzies, especially about managing people and larger scale farming.

“I quickly realised how passionate I am about working with people and being part of a team.”

He spent two seasons absorbing as much knowledge and experience as he could before shifting to the lower-order position.

On the current farm, they usually have a team of four but they have had difficulty recruiting recently so have had to juggle with three and utilise a range of casuals to plug the gaps.

Hayden and son Ezekiel spend a lot of time out on the farm together doing farm jobs including tractor work.

They run a roster that works similar to five on and two off, where everyone has a three-day weekend every second weekend and a day off between weekends. 

“I was given advice early that dairying jobs need to be attractive to compete with town jobs, where people have weekends off and we’ve found everyone loves having regular three-day weekends.

“It actually makes it hard to take annual leave because you’ve got so many opportunities to go away and you do feel recharged, it works well for the team.”

They are spring-calving crossbred cows on rolling hill country, milking twice a day until switching to 10 milkings in seven days in February. They operate a System 2 with grain being fed through in-shed feeding throughout the season,  but the big focus is pasture with silage added as needed.

Outside of the farm, Diack is still heavily involved in footy, playing in the division one competition for Wyndham.

“It’s a tough competition, we train like professionals and it takes up a lot of time, but I love it.”

He and Alienor have a one-year-old son, Ezekiel, who they try to take to the beach whenever they can.

They have a property in Invercargill and, looking ahead, they will continue to build equity and pay down debt. They aspire to own a farm one day but that does not have to be outright ownership – they would happily look at some sort of equity arrangement. 

Diack feels they have both gotten a lot out of entering the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards, making the regional finals in 2020 and placing third last year. It was meeting like-minded people and receiving feedback from the judges that made the most impact.

He is pretty proud of what he has achieved in only three years in the industry, knowing it is light years ahead of where he would have gotten in sheep and beef. 

“I love the industry, I love how everyone is so keen to share knowledge and how you can see results pretty quickly.”

He encourages others to surround themselves with people who support personal growth and provide the best opportunities.

“There can be some pretty tough people to work for out there, but if you find a good system with good life balance there are some amazing opportunities.

“And there are plenty of people out there who are keen to see others succeed.”

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