Jackie Harrigan

A chance encounter with a farmer whose motorbike had broken down led motorbike mechanic Branden Darlow to embrace a career in the dairy industry.

South African-born Branden, a keen motocross rider and mechanic helped out a farmer who was pushing his broken-down bike and was asked: could he milk cows? The encounter led to learning to relief milk, which he did for six months and later to a farm assistant job at Faull Farms in northern Taranaki for the now 24-year-old who has just won the Taranaki DIA Dairy Manager of the Year award.

“I don’t really think I chose farming, I believe farming chose me,” Branden said.

“First of all, I have a real passion for animals and love for the outdoors and nature and I also love challenging myself constantly and the great opportunity to grow that I found in this industry.”

That first boss and his wife, Tony and Loie Penwarden, were 50:50 sharemilkers for the Faull family on their 1200-cow farm and have been huge supporters and mentors to Branden and his partner Carina, a Costa Rican agronomy graduate who was also working on Faull Farm.

After four years on the Tikorangi unit, where the staff was large and varied and had a great ‘family vibe’ and where Branden learnt lots from the Penwardens and the next sharemilkers James and Melisa Barbour, Branden and Carina moved to a manager’s position on the flanks of Mt Taranaki.

Branden had risen working as herd manager and had been working his way through Primary ITO Level 3 and 4, which he has almost finished, so was ready for a step up.

The young couple were looking for an opportunity and were offered a one-year contract as manager and farm assistant and now plan ideally to move to a contract milking job.

In their jobs Branden and Carina say they are 100% orientated towards the health of the animals, not only to ensure they have the 5 freedoms, but also going a little further, always thinking about the cows and taking the very best care of them.

“We have so many pet cows and we love happy cows.”

They have philosophies around milking their colostrum cows on OAD for the first four days of lactation, that they learnt from James Barbour saying this lets the cow recover from the birth and have learned a lot from their current employer about excellent routines around calf rearing to ensure the calves get the best colostrum and opportunities for maximum growth.

Branden says the biggest challenges have been learning how to handle his time, and ensuring he has a good work-life balance.

Growing up at Port Elizabeth, on the South African eastern south coast, Branden has always loved the sea and now with a small boat he and Carina love to go fishing and waterskiing.

Branden won the Fonterra Dairy Management Award and says he is very focused on the cows in any dairy industry job he holds.

He says he works towards increasing feed conversion efficiency of all herds through strategies of maximizing days in milk through compacting the calving, reducing mastitis and increasing the availability and quality of the forage through any dry summers.

A cropping programme will increase forage mass and also gives a good opportunity to regrass with new grasses and increased clovers, he says.

Branden is very keen on record keeping and uses his farm maps and MINDA Land and Feed to record fertiliser applications, grazing and individual cow records.

He is also focused on the importance of timely grazing, especially when the pastures are growing fast and on making sure the cows are well fed in the times of pasture deficit.

Three years ago the couple began building equity by rearing beef calves. They have managed to raise 150 each season on milk powder and have two lease blocks in North Taranaki to graze the calves on. They sell 75 of the calves at 100kg (which pays for all the expenditure), sell a further 15-20 R1s (paying for the leases) and farm the other 50 through to around two years old before selling into the works.

They are both ambitious in their goals and alongside interests of keeping fit and water sports they enjoy attending personal development and leadership seminars. Aiming to move to a 400-cow 50:50 sharemilking job in the next five years they plan to save hard each year to add cash to equity from their business to buy the herd and make the next step up.

“New Zealand and the dairy industry have been really good to us and we appreciate all the support and knowledge that all our employers have generously given us in the past five years.”

“We would like to be successful in the dairy industry and give back to others and have a life of service to help people around us.”

Second in the Dairy Manager category was Leroy Hunt from Hawera and third was Diego Raul Gomez Salinas from Hawera.

Dairy manager merit awards

Taranaki DIA Encouragement Award – Manpreet Singh

BakerTilly Staples Rodway Employee Engagement Award – Diego Raul Gomez Salinas

SHARE Leadership Award – Leroy Hunt

Bayleys Real Estate Taranaki Feed Management Award – Leroy Hunt

DeLaval Livestock Management Award – Leroy Hunt

Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Branden Darlow

PrimaryITO Power Play Award – Branden Darlow

Westpac Personal Planning and Financial Management Award – Diego Raul Gomez Salinas