The morning after winning one of Māoridom’s most prestigious farming awards was pretty much the same as the rest for Chloe Butcher-Herries: heading out into the hills with her dogs to move bulls and shift fences.
Only the third woman to win the Young Maori Farmer Award, she says she would not have it any other way, such is her love for what she is doing, and where she is doing it.
“To walk out the back door and be surrounded by the land, the trees, the whenua, it is a privilege.”
School holidays and weekends spent on her uncle’s Hawke’s Bay farm confirmed to her that it was the open space of the country that she wanted to build her life in.
Today the 30-year-old straight-talking assistant farm manager has risen strongly through the industry, gathering even more respect in light of her recent win.
But she attributes her success as much to the people who have helped her along the way as to her passion for what she does.
That includes her wife Makita and her latest bosses, Robert and Helen Pattullo of Newstead Farm, a bull-beef operation in Puketapu, near Napier.
“Rob is amazing. I have been doing this since I was 15 and the five years I have had with Rob outweigh everything else I have learnt before,” Butcher-Herries says.
She credits his mentoring role with helping her develop an understanding of the primary sector and its issues well beyond the farmgate, ensuring she is more than simply “someone on a motorbike with a few dogs”.
This has included regularly attending Beef + Lamb NZ field days and seminars, including on He Waka Eke Noa to fuel her with the confidence to hold a view and be informed about the big-picture events affecting those on the land.
The Pattullos run an intensive bull-beef cell grazing system, buying in 1150 Friesian bulls from late April, running them through a cell rotation every four days within their 20ha blocks, with destocking starting in November.
The management practice fits in well with Butcher-Herries’ interest in having a smaller environmental footprint, lightening the load on the farm during Hawke’s Bay’s increasingly severe summer dry periods, allowing the property’s pastures to recover.
“Our view is that pretty much any animal on the farm for a short time is a good animal.”
The Pattullos have supported Butcher-Herries’ off-farm education as she completed her level 3 and 4 studies in sheep and beef farming with Primary ITO, and she steps in to start her diploma in primary industries studies.
Butcher-Herries and her wife have turned the inherent benefit of having a house to live in on the farm into another advantage by investing in three houses of their own as part of their journey to farm ownership.
Recognising the challenges that housing brings to many in the region, they have made a point of making them available to rent as healthy homes for Ngāti Kahungunu iwi.
“Over the next three to five years I know Makita is keen to buy three more, and to have 10 within 10 years, and in 15 years we would like to use them to buy a farm for us and our future,” Butcher-Herries says.
In announcing Butcher-Herries’ award, Māori Trustee Dr Charlotte Severne also announced the unprecedented step of inducting all three finalists into the Ahuwhenua Young Māori Farmer alumni – an honour usually reserved for the winner.
Severne said the move was warranted by the sheer calibre of the three finalists, with the other two being Puhiere Te-Akainga Tamanui Tau and Rameka Eli Edwards.
Butcher-Herries said she welcomes the Pattullos’ open-door policy on their farm, which gives plenty of opportunity for people of any age to visit the property and see what she is up to.
“It is something we want to do, to really encourage more Māori, young and old, to get into farming. There are plenty of good resources out there now that weren’t there as much when I started, including the Primary ITO.”
She acknowledged many iwi could be too humble about their successes, and that the trophy represents a great opportunity to shout that success, in a sector that is an increasingly significant and valued part of NZ’s primary industry.
Correction: An earlier version of this article did not clarify that Chloe Butcher-Herries is only the third woman to win the Young Maori Farmer Award, as other women have previous been recipients of the main Ahuwhenua Trophy.