Jackie Harrigan

Carting his whole family home from a busy life working in Western Australia is starting to pay off for winning Taranaki dairy manager 33-year-old Kenneth Harrison.

His wife Nicole is embracing the dairy farm life – rearing calves and relief milking and the couple say they have much more time to spend with their family of Lachlan, 11, Jaiden, 6 and Bella 5.

Kenneth had milked cows in Taranaki when he left school but followed it with a stint in the meat works then left for the bright lights of Brisbane followed by Perth.

Eight years operating drilling rigs and then short-haul truck driving with the couple juggling work schedules and young children meant a six-day-a-week struggle, and one day off each week for children’s sporting activities.

A hurried and busy life, Kenneth was working days and Nicole working nights.

Returning to Taranaki and the dairy industry in January 2017 has afforded them more time off (working a six on and two off roster) and much more time with the children for both Kenneth and Nicole along with closeness to Kenneth’s parents and family.

Rather than missing the busy city, Nicole says she is quite happy in the country and finds the traffic of New Plymouth annoyingly busy!

Bringing some transferable skills to the industry, Kenneth says he had to tone down his health and safety practice, because it’s pretty fierce on the rigs.

“I had to learn not to yell at people if they were doing something wrong – that was commonplace on the rig.”

Joining Charlie and Jody McCaig on their Opunake 1000-cow dairy farm more than two years ago Kenneth has risen through the ranks from farm assistant to herd manager looking after all the young stock on the support block adjacent to the milking platform, before going to senior herd manager with responsibility for half the dairy herd and then assistant manager of the farm.

Next season Kenneth, as assistant manager, will have two herd managers under him and a farm assistant.

He has enjoyed upskilling through Primary ITO, whistling through the Level four courses in six months, saying that maturity and life experience helped him to complete quickly so he could put the knowledge into practice.

The McCaigs are also good at putting their staff through courses – Kenneth has attended a spring rotation planner day and has been vet-trained to deal with lameness, saving the expense of calling the vet every time a cow is lame.

The two herds are milked through a 60-bail rotary shed, so a milk harvester is employed fulltime to help with the 5.5 hours milking each day and free up staff for other duties. While Kenneth doesn’t mind milking, he loves the outside aspects of his job, and takes great pride in the health of his young charges.

“My calves are 12kg overweight at the moment, and I learnt how to properly budget my feed through my DIA experiences.

“I really enjoy the challenge of being proactive – monitoring a situation and making decisions in a proactive way.”

Kenneth has 320 replacements on the young stock block, including 60 replacement heifers for the farm owners’ other farm and 40 bull calves. The bulls are part of a biosecurity plan to eliminate bringing bulls on to the farm to service the Kiwicross herd for tailing up and over the first calving heifers. Breeding is split between 4.5 weeks of AI and 4.5 weeks of natural mating.

Kenneth also entered the awards last year and says the great judging feedback was very encouraging.

“I have learnt a lot about myself from the process and also learnt about what I need to work on.”

Planning for a future in the dairy industry, Kenneth is using the DIA process to start a savings and budgeting plan as he works towards moving into a 250-cow contract milking job within the next two or three years.

“Next season we will be starting to save the money we will need to move into contract milking – $15,000-$20,000 to buy equipment and three months living expenses to tide us over until the milk cheques start.”

“Our long-term goal is 50/50 sharemilking, farm ownership is probably off the table as it’s just too expensive for us. But we can have a great future in sharemilking.”

The roster he is working now is much better than the six days a week in Australia, Kenneth says.

“We only ever got one day off – whereas now we have two days off each week, and every six or seven weeks we get a Friday/Saturday, then Saturday/Sunday and then Sunday/Monday off.”

Kenneth coaches Lachlan’s rugby team and says the McCaigs are very good about letting him get to training and games.

Winning the Employee Engagement award was a highlight for Kenneth who says he enjoys understanding how the farm works and engaging with the people who work under him.

Now he is shifting his focus towards the finals and says he has already exceeded his expectations by winning the regional competition.

“I am really keen to have fun at the finals and am excited that I now have the opportunity to make a whole new level of contacts and friends.”


I.S. Dam Lining Ltd Encouragement Award – Diego Raul Gomez Salinas

Primo Wireless Employee Engagement Award – Kenneth Harrison

SHARE Leadership Award – Guy Cowan

PGG Wrightson Livestock Feed Management Award, DeLaval Livestock Management Award, Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Matthew Moffitt

PrimaryITO Power Play Award, Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Matthias Hipp