Chris Neill

The announcement of Sheena Waru as the Northland Dairy Manager of the Year for 2020 totally surprised the first-time entrant who has been full-time dairying for three years.

Sheena is justifiably delighted to receive her awards, proving to herself and her children that she is capable of “being more than just a mum”. Proudly Maori and bound to whanau, Sheena hopes that through her success, other women will recognise they too can find rewarding opportunities in the dairy industry.

Sheena and husband William with their son and two daughters, were living onfarm when out of necessity her dairy career started. A traumatic injury to William saw her start relief milking for William’s employer, then advancing to herd manager of 280 cows as her ability to focus, learn and apply herself was recognised. Having to stand aside from this role for William to return to work was bittersweet. Yet, as this door closed, she opened another.

A relief milking job with Chris and Jane Mitchell restarted her dairy farming journey and as Sheena’s father affectionately described it, she had developed “mad cow disease”. Progress was quick to a permanent role as farm assistant and then to assistant manager when Sheena and William became the managing couple of the 520-cow, split-calving herd.

Sheena’s progress has been greatly encouraged by Chris and his father Phil, with a return to education and skill development. Her inspiration to persevere with adult learning came with showing her son what can be achieved and that she wasn’t “past it”.

Sheena enjoys the freedom and space of working from home and outdoors, being a “Jill of all trades” and finding adventure in each day. The farm they now manage at Opuawhanga is 320 hectares in total with 195ha dairy platform and the balance in beef. The herd is split 320 spring and 200 autumn calving. Operating as system 4-5, supplement comes from palm kernel and home-grown maize with the primary source of feed being pasture.

With total production compromised by drought this year, farm production is expected to come in close to 220,000kg milksolids (MS). With 25ha taken out for maize and an expected yield of 20 tonnes/ha, the pastures are budgeted to deliver 11t/ ha eaten. Utilisation of supplement which is around 1.45t/cow/year, is enhanced with the herd homes on the property that are also security against the farm being flooded when there are significant rain events. A plus in winter when the herd is wintered on farm.

Pasture measuring to create management information is Sheena’s responsibility and is a key element to ensuring the optimum supply of low-cost feed. Chris and Phil are encouraging her to get a deeper understanding of the whole farm system which fits well with Sheena’s desire to learn and progress.

A high standard of cow feeding and management is reflected in the farm’s 80% six week in-calf rate and 6% empty rate with 10 weeks of mating. Young stock are grazed off farm and returned to calve at 500-550kg. This is a tidy, well run farm which this management team and farm owners work hard to achieve.

The Fonterra Dairy Management Award citation indicates that there is attention to detail in other aspects of the business.

“Sheena took a lot of pride in her shed and the policies she has put in place to ensure high quality milk is provided to Fonterra. The dairy shed was clean and well presented, and Sheena and the team obviously take a lot of pride in the farm appearance.” The farm operates with Sheena, William and a milk harvester utilising a simple 40-aside herringbone shed.

Sheena has developed and written her personal vision and goals. With clarity of purpose and clear understanding of her values, she has recognised education and learning are essential to achieve what she wants from life.

Connecting with Karla Frost and Pip Howard has brought Primary ITO study to Sheena’s life. She has progressed to now studying toward Level 4 Apprenticeship. From this, Sheena has discovered a passion for planning, then monitoring, recording and reporting progress. This was noted in the judges’ citation for the Whitelaw Weber Employee Engagement Award.

“We were very impressed with Sheena’s ability to put in place farm policy as well as health and safety procedures to ensure the team operated in an efficient and safe manner. Sheena demonstrated a great knowledge of what is required to make a farm run in an effective and efficient manner.”

Sheena is a quiet achiever who contributes to the community through Dairy Women’s Network and a support organisation for women with breast cancer. The less quiet part of their lives is membership of the Loud n Obnoxious Car Club – a collective of passionate V8 Holden owners who attend a lot of charity runs.

Sheena’s plan is to progress in the dairy industry. Friends have warned them off taking on sharemilking or contract milking because of the physical and financial pressures that could put her family and relationship at risk. While this may be reviewed in the context of the progression and networks that come with her Dairy Industry Awards success, her focus is on developing a career in operations management or farm supervision. The trade off to this would be moving on from direct contact with cows and hands on farming.

Wherever her path takes her, this impressive young woman will make a meaningful contribution to the dairy industry as it addresses the challenges of balancing profitability with environmental sustainability and farmer wellbeing.

Runner up in the Dairy Manager category was Wellsford farm manager Fred Hohaia.

Dairy manager merit awards:

Craigs Investment Partners Most Promising Entrant Award – Sarah Powell

Whitelaw Weber Employee Engagement Award – Sheena Waru

Webb Ross McNab Kilpatrick Leadership Award – Jared Sione Lauaki

GJ Gardner Homes Whangarei/Kaipara Feed Management Award – Fred Hohaia

DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Sarah Powell

Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Sheena Waru

PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Jared Sione Lauaki

Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Fred Hohaia