Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Pandemic a catalyst for eye-opening career change

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After chasing the Mount Maunganui dream, a Bay of Plenty farmer is pursuing his new dream of dairying.
After spending 12 years working in hospitality, Bay of Plenty farmer Sam Taylor-Hill had to find a new career path after the pandemic. He turned to farming.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

The sun, sandy beaches and surf of Mount Maunganui provided a dream lifestyle for a Bay of Plenty farmer – until covid hit. 

The pandemic changed everything for Sam Taylor-Hill and left him feeling frustrated and deflated when he was made redundant from his brewery sales role. He had spent 12 years in hospitality, built a sound reputation and achieved some great things, but was back to square one unsure where to go next.

A friend snaffled him up to give him a hand getting his electrician business going. Taylor-Hill worked with him for 18 months as an apprentice but struggled to find his spark. 

Arriving home one evening, he found his partner, Dayna Rowe, who was managing her family’s farm, stressing about finding staff.

“It was like the penny dropped; here I was not happy with what I was doing and she needed someone to help out on the farm,” Taylor-Hill says.

“So I dropped tools and took up a fulltime role as a farm assistant and I am absolutely loving it.”

He is a farm assistant on the Rowe’s family farm, milking 920 cows.

A defining moment was when he and Dayna were calving a cow together in the middle of the night. Being a beach kid from Whanganui, he had never experienced anything like it and “had no idea where my butter came from”.

Before then Taylor-Hill had been involved with night checks during calving and helped on weekends, so he had some foundational skills and knowledge, but he has been blown away by the support across the industry.

“The support is unreal, it’s incredible how willing everyone is to help each other.

“In the bar industry everyone stuck to themselves, but in farming, if you have a problem there’s always someone who can share their experience and give you advice.”

Growing up a beach kid in Whanganui, Sam-Taylor-Hill had no idea where his butter came from – but he’s learnt the ropes since starting to work on the farm. Sam heads off to check the herd.

Entering farming was a huge eye-opener for him, having had an image of farmers as pretty gruff.

“I didn’t realise how much was involved in looking after the herd and producing milk. There’s so much going on with grazing management, weather and the general day-to-day and flowing with the punches.

“If something breaks you need to fix it, you’ve got to shoot from the hip sometimes.

“It’s the biggest sector in New Zealand but I reckon 95% of people have no idea what a farmer does and what they’re doing for the country.”

He thinks it has been a massive perk working and living with Dayna.

“Not many people get to spend that much time with their manager and it has been helpful because I can pick her brains and ask lots of questions so I’ve been learning things quickly.”

The farm is owned by Danya’s parents, Grant and Ngaire Rowe, and is in the Bay of Plenty, 15 minutes south of Papamoa in an area called Pongakawa. It is 270ha and the 920 cows are milked through a 60-bale rotary with automatic cup removers. The farm also has Halter, which Taylor-Hill calls a game-changer.

“I’ve spoken to enough farmers to know how spoiled I am on this farm,” he laughs.

“The Halter system is amazing, we’re not in the paddocks chasing cows and setting up tape, it’s such an efficient way to manage the farm.”

The milking routine starts as 11 milkings in seven days and after Christmas that changes to 10 milkings across seven days. There are four in the team and the plan is he and Dayna will start contract milking next season.

They make an effort to maintain a work-life balance and he has been impressed by the support system and knowledge surrounding mental health for farmers.

“Dayna is big on getting off the farm and having other interests, and I can see how it can make a huge difference.

“You can tell when someone hasn’t got that balance, they just lose their enthusiasm and struggle with motivation, but we work hard to keep that off-farm life.”

Sam took on farming after coming home from work and finding his partner Dayna Rowe stressing about not being able to find staff. He put his hand up and hasn’t looked back.

They are both into surfing and think the Surfing for Farmers initiative is amazing. They keep a range of outdoor hobbies and love random trips away. Taylor-Hill is also a marriage celebrant, having become one after a drunken dare from some friends who decided they would like him to marry them.

“I woke up with the paperwork half filled in so I decided to finish it for a laugh.

“I got the licence just in time to marry them and have been involved in a range of weddings since then.

“There’s heaps of demand for someone less traditional I guess, but I like to stick with people I already know.”

Before he came onto the farm full time they had planned he would be involved in the administration and business side when they start contract milking. They could utilise the skills he has from managing bars and he would also help on the weekends when staff have time off. It could still be on the cards one day but for now he is glad to have found a hands-on skilled role that keeps him outside.

“I still live by the philosophy that if you enjoy what you’re doing it isn’t work and to me, farming is exactly that.

“I think if more people were exposed to it younger we’d all be a lot more grounded.”

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