Learning with an early riser

Alice Gysbertsen - Hawke's Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Manager of the Year. By Sheryl Haitana.

Alice Gysbertsen was home-schooled and used to get up at 5am to finish her school work early so she could spend the rest of the day out working on the dairy farm where the family lived.

The 2023 Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Manager of the Year has always had an ingrained passion for working outside looking after cows so there was only ever one option for a career.

“I don’t know what else I’d be doing if I wasn’t farming. I just love it. There are a lot of opportunities in farming and options for progression.”

Brought up in the Wairarapa, her parents Bart and Tineke Gysbertsen worked as contract milkers and sharemilkers. As well as helping out onfarm, from the age of 11, Alice got jobs as a relief milker and calf rearer on neighbour’s farms.

“I was allowed to work outside of mum’s school hours. The school day started at 8am, but I’d get up at 5am and I’d go through mine and be done by breakfast and the rest of the day was mine to be on the farm.”

At 16 she went working fulltime and has worked on smaller operations up to 1500-cow farms.

“I definitely prefer the smaller farms and work well on my own, but the large farms are such great learning opportunities.”

Alice won the Hawke’s Bay/Wairarapa Dairy Trainee category in the 2014 Dairy Industry Awards and after one attempt at the manager category a few years ago she felt ready to give it another crack.

The competition is such a unique tool to improve your skills and progress, she says.

“I love being able to benchmark myself and get feedback from the judges and the networking has given me so many contacts, it’s amazing.

“The awards are such a great experience and a challenge, it’s been invaluable.”

Alice won four merit awards on the night of the awards. Winning the Vet Services (Dannevirke) Pasture & Feed Management Award was the biggest highlight for her.

“That was the one I was hoping for and the one I didn’t expect to win. It was a shock. It’s something that’s very important for the whole system and being recognised for that is amazing, it’s a huge part of my role.”

Alice aims to get around the farm three times a week minimum to survey pasture cover and check what else is happening around the farm.

“I’d do it daily if I could. I look at the feed and it helps me see what is happening everywhere and what needs doing.”

She also won the TFM Tractors People & Leadership Award. Managing staff is something she has done part time in other roles, but she’s enjoying taking the lead on that this season.

Her top tip is to be open and honest with staff and be approachable so staff will speak to you about any issues.

“I want them to feel comfortable to come to me if there is a problem.

“I also work on telling them if they’ve done a job well, to let them know. And to be appreciative, a thank you at the end of the day goes a long way.”

Alice is working as a 2IC on Bryan Tucker’s 308-hectare, 1000-cow farm at Greytown, with three full time and two casual staff.

Her father Bart has been running a 500ha drystock block for Bryan for the  last nine years and the opportunity came up last year to take on the contract milking position on the dairy farm. It’s the first time father and daughter have worked together officially.

“It’s been going well, I’ve been able to bring my experience from the different systems I’ve worked on and combine it with his experience.”

A few weeks after taking over the farm, almost all of the 100ha river flat block went under water. The stop bank which had recently been repaired had not had enough time to settle and the river broke through again.

Luckily they had enough warning to get the springer cows on to higher ground.

While the river flat block recovered well, it was the start of an extremely challenging wet season.

They’ve been able to get through with good management and a good team and catch production up to be just 1% behind for the season, Alice says.

Keeping stress levels under control and being able to manage through such big events is a skill that comes with time, age and experience.

Alice is studying the Level 5 New Zealand Certificate in Primary Industry Production Management through Primary ITO, having previously completed Level 3 and 4. Continuing to educate herself is important to Alice.

“I make sure I find the time. There is always more to learn and I like to learn and build my skills along the way.”

Her short-term goal is to find a 200-cow sharemilking position, to grow to about 400 cows and be able to buy a runoff within the next 10 years.

Runner-up – Krissy Rive, Takapau, Third – Sophie White, Featherston.