From Japan to milk cows

Chihiro Hanyuda - Bay of Plenty Dairy Manager of the Year. By Sheryl Haitana.

Japanese-born Chihiro Hanyuda has advanced quickly up the ladder in the dairy industry to her first job as farm manager in just three years, including take a six month ‘break’ to have her daughter.

The 27-year-old grew up in Nara, Japan, a city surrounded by rice fields. Chihiro was drawn to cows from an early age and always knew she wanted to be a dairy farmer.

“It’s very difficult to make a living dairy farming in Japan so I knew I would have to go overseas. I originally was looking at Australia as I didn’t know anything about New Zealand. But someone told me Aussie was expensive so I came here.

“I’m proud of myself for climbing the ladder relatively fast for someone who came to NZ alone just a few years ago and didn’t know anything about farming.

“When people look at me, they don’t think I’m a farmer. I’m proud to be a farmer in this country – if I can do it, anyone can.”

She enrolled in Massey University at Palmerston North and studied a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Animal Science, with a minor in Ecology.

With one paper to finish in her degree she got a job working as farm assistant in Taupo milking 2000 cows.

The large-scale operation wasn’t for her as she didn’t like the poor cow management so she left after a year to a 600-cow farm on the Kaimais in the Bay of Plenty. She started as a farm assistant, was promoted to herd manager and then got pregnant. She took six months off to have her daughter and in the meantime found her first job as farm manager in Galatea. She is working for Peter Overdevest and Tania Akehurst on their 148-hectare Galatea farm, milking 379 cows with one staff member.

Her partner Te Maapi, whom she met at Massey, works as a car salesman in Tauranga. He currently stays in Tokoroa with their daughter Mirai, 1, and his parents. The commute for him is easier from there. It was a tough decision to live apart, but it works at the moment. Her family provides motivation to keep going during the tougher times, she says.

“To be honest, it’s not easy having a baby and working onfarm at the same time. I was just lucky to have a partner who is really supportive of my career.

“Of course it’s not impossible to progress in the industry, but having a baby came with huge sacrifices and more obstacles.

“If I was a sharemilker, I suppose it would’ve been a different story, but as an employee, I can’t bring my baby to work so we had to come up with other options. I know that women might struggle with the physical side of farming more than men, but there are so many tools and machinery these days to help us, so it might take us a bit longer but we could still get the job done.

“I think women in general have more patience and understand what cows go through better as mothers, so there is definitely an advantage in hiring women onfarm. At the end of the day, the gender doesn’t matter. What matters is how determined the person is to work hard.”

Chihiro’s ultimate goal is farm ownership, owning a 400-600 cow farm, preferably close to a city for Te Maapi to continue in his career.

“I will be looking at going contract milking or sharemilking in the next two-three years, depending on finances. We have set a goal to save $50,000 from our wages this year. We are not quite there yet.”

Chihiro first entered the Dairy Industry Awards as a dairy trainee last year, she didn’t make the finals but was recognised as emerging talent. She wasn’t keen to enter this year because she was only in her first year as manager, but had a lot of encouragement.

“Everyone was hounding me. So I thought there is no harm in trying.”

Chihiro loves farming in Galatea although she hasn’t experienced farming through a drought yet.

“The community here is so lovely, everyone is so nice.

“This is my first manager role, but Peter and Tania are so supportive. Pete is always out onfarm so if there is anything that comes up, I can ask him.”

Chihiro won three merit awards, including the DeLaval Livestock Management Award, Fonterra Dairy Management Award and the Whakatane District Council Environmental Sustainability Award.

When it comes to livestock management, animal welfare is a huge priority on their farm, Chihiro says.

“Tracey and I are both mums so I think we sympathise with the cows. We never try to rush them and make sure they’re not stressed.

“Winning the sustainability award was a big one for me. I want to work to close the gap between farmers and the government. I would love to assist farmers and government officials to understand each other’s point of view.”

Having studied ecology, she wants to be able to help farmers further understand the impacts their farming practices can have.

“Most of the effects, we cannot see visually. I want to eventually be able to have workshops with farmers to show not just the science, but just how beneficial some of the improved practices can be.

“We can’t be ignorant and think we can do what we have done in the past, or just think about now, we have to think about the future generations.”

Uneducated comments on social media frustrate Chihiro, who would like to see farmers educate themselves more on the environment.

“I see these comments and I get a feeling that most haven’t even read the regulations or understand them properly.

“Instead of blindly disagreeing, we should broaden our knowledge and think how we can individually improve the situation.”

Runner up – Dayna Rowe, Te Puke Third – Lindsay Williams, Pukehina.