This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.
After the tourism sector was wiped out during the pandemic, a tour guide decided to go into the police force instead. But in the meantime, while waiting for a Police College intake, he took on a dairy assistant role as a “halfway job”.
But not even six months into the farm role, Thomas Lundman was on the phone with the police recruiter to withdraw his application. He said he would call back if he changed his mind but three years later he is still content in the dairy industry and has no plans of making that call.
Pre-covid he was deep in the tourism sector, as a glow-worm cave tour guide in Te Anau in Southland. When the business had to make cuts during the pandemic, he and his wife Alice packed their bags to move closer to family in Whakatane. It was his mother-in-law, Cheryl Brogdan, who found him his farm assistant role.
“Alice’s parents are agricultural contractors so that was how they had the connections,” Lundman says.
“It was just supposed to be a fill-in but I landed the most incredible employers and love the lifestyle so I decided to stay.”
He is working for Chris and Rosie Mexted, who are sharemilking on a family farm in Matata. Lundman has progressed from his assistant role to a shared manager position where he and another team member, Patrick McCullough, take turns managing the farm.
“I managed for the first three months over calving, then we switched and Patrick managed for three months over mating before we switched again and then he finished the final three months of the season.
“It worked really well. We are both capable but chose to manage the periods where we wanted to develop our knowledge further.”
He appreciates being supported by the Mexteds, who let them make their own decisions but keep the train on the tracks when they need to. Chris is returning to the farm full-time next season and Lundman thinks it will be a good change of pace for him and Alice.
“We’ve worked our butts off for the past three years to get where we are. I’m actually looking forward to taking a step back again and catching my breath.”
They did consider leaving the Mexteds to progress their dairying career further but realised it suited them better to stay put for now as being happy is their measure of success.
The farm is 140ha and they are milking 550 crossbreed cows through a 48-bail rotary shed. The farm operates as a System 5 but the primary focus is pasture management. They use maize, palm kernel, soy hull and a bit of kiwifruit since it is easy to get hold of.
Lundman claims he is not a practical farmer since he has a love-hate relationship with machinery, but he enjoys spraying weeds, keeping paddocks tidy, managing pasture and making sure the cows are well fed.
He says if he could go back to the start of his farming journey to change anything it would be getting involved with Primary ITO sooner. He has nearly finished his Level 3, covering topics like milk harvesting, effluent management, calving and mating and he is about to work through grazing before he moves on to level 4.
“Primary ITO has been great, it’s allowed me to find and fill gaps in my knowledge and build a solid foundation.
“I appreciate the tutors answering my in-depth questions and I am lucky to have an engaged boss to help me too.”
He discovered Primary ITO through some feedback during his first attempt at the New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards (NZDIA).
“I got into the awards after heading along to Pie Day Friday at the local Farm Source and was approached by someone recommending I come along to a night at the local brewery to learn about NZDIA.
“It sounded great to me, free beer, free pizza and a night out, and it did convince me to enter, which has been amazing.”
In that first year, he placed runner-up in the trainee category and last year he scooped up a couple of merit awards and went on to win the regional title.
“I wasn’t expecting any placings but when they called my name as the winner I sat there a bit stunned as I wasn’t sure they meant me,” he laughs.
He placed runner-up at the national final and is planning to enter the manager category next year.
“I feel like I’ve landed on my feet. Dairy farming is such a great lifestyle, it is hard work, you work long hours and it’s busy, but it’s flexible as well.
“As long as the cows are fed and milked and you’ve got a good team, it doesn’t really stop you from doing anything I reckon.”
He believes having a great boss has made all the difference and encourages others to get involved in the community.
“The support is amazing, people are always keen to help and there are a lot of field days and events to learn as much as you can.
“I’m always asking questions and listening to podcasts all day long.
“I loved tourism but I can’t imagine doing anything else now.”