Sheryl Haitana

Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year Joe Kehely has been saving and building equity to buy his own farm since he was 12.

The 2019 Waikato Dairy Manager of the Year is well on his way to his goal, going contract milking this season with the option of buying into a sharemilking position in the next few years.

The now 21-year-old started relief milking on his parents’ farm at Oropi in the Bay of Plenty when he was just 12. He left school at 16 to work fulltime and bought his first house in Tauranga with his $35,000 deposit.

When he left school he got a job as farm assistant in Te Awamutu before getting his first managing job, milking 140 cows at Putaruru for Craig and Jan Tomalin. He later managed his brother’s 450-cow herd, before returning to the same farm owners at Putaruru.

He is now overseeing the three milking units for contract milker Chris and Lynda Tomalin. The farm is still owned by Craig and Jan Tomalin.

Joe is responsible for calving all 600 cows on his block and then manages 240 cows for the rest of the season.

His wife Danielle, also 21, works as his assistant manager, rearing all the calves, relief milking and managing the other two farms when those managers are on leave.

Danielle, born in South Africa, grew up on a farm her parents managed. She then studied a diploma in Travel and Tourism Management through the NZ School of Tourism, which she sees as a good diversity option to farming in the future.

The couple had planned on entering the Dairy Manager competition together, but realised late in the game that Danielle couldn’t enter as her official title was assistant manager.

The couple met through Young Farmers and married last year. They share a passion for farming, for working hard and making sacrifices to get to where they want to be.

The couple live on about $300/week – it’s a tight budget but they are making the sacrifices now to be set up later in life.

“It’s not how much you earn it’s how much you save. Working fulltime together has certainly tested our relationship – and it’s worked,” Joe says.

“The strongest part of us is we work together well as a couple, not many people can live together, socialise together and work together.

“Danielle makes up for my weaknesses, and vice versa. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, we push each other and we work in sync.”

Although they live on a tight budget, they don’t watch television so they’re always out socialising, they are very active with Young Farmers and both share a passion for hunting and fishing and their recent hobby is camping.

“I don’t waste my time watching TV – all everyone is talking about is Married at First Sight at the moment – that’s not going to mean anything next year.”

They are moving north to Kaitaia this season to contract milk 700 cows and their goal is to be farm owners by the time they are 30.

The farm they are going to has a 28-bail rotary and the couple will be the only fulltime staff – they won’t be calving the cows however, so it will only be milking the cows year-round. The farm is building a 54-bail rotary and they have discussed sharemilking opportunities with the farm owner David van Bysterveldt.

David is a family friend and has been a long-time mentor to Joe.

“He is someone I’ve taken a lot of guidance from, he approached us to go up there.”

Their agreement is to review their position at the end of each season and there will be opportunities to sharemilk for David, perhaps buying gradually into the herd as they can afford it. The couple own two houses together, with Joe’s first house in Tauranga, and they bought a second house in Kaitaia.

Their plan is to pay off both houses within the next four years, unless they sell them early to put the equity into sharemilking.

The contract milking position is just half an hour from where Joe’s parents and two younger brothers now live, which is another attraction for heading to Northland.

“I’m very family orientated,” Joe says.

His parents are both entrepreneurs and have been a big guide behind his investment decisions.

“I’m pretty lucky both of my parents are go-getters, they never sit back, they push themselves, they bought their first bit of land at 23 years old. I always aimed to follow them and looked up to my older brother.

“My father and brother have about 400 beehives, which is something Danielle is interested in and we’ve talked about going into partnership together which gives us some diversity in our business.”

Joe first entered the Dairy Industry Awards and won the most promising entrant in the Waikato Dairy Manager competition in 2016 and won most promising in the Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager competition the following year.

“At 17 I wanted to win – but the best thing about entering the awards is meeting all the people,” Joe says.

The networking with other up-and-coming farmers along with leaders within the dairy industry has enormous benefits and gives you contacts going forward, he says.

“Being able to take out most of the merit awards and win gives us even more confidence going forward,” he says.


Pioneer Most Promising Entrant Award – Jen Hodgson

Staples Rodway Employee Engagement Award – Kendall Belton

Blackman Spargo Rural Law Ltd Leadership Award, ADM Feed Management Award, DeLaval Livestock Management Award, Fonterra Dairy Management Award, Westpac Personal Planning & Financial Management Award – Joe Kehely

Primary ITO Power Play Award – Daisy Higgs