Never mind the wet

Rita Jeffrey - Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Trainee of the Year. By Elaine Fisher.

An exceptionally wet spring and summer, and a cyclone, meant Rita Jeffrey updated her work wardrobe earlier than normal.

“It was weird to get new wet weather gear in summer instead of winter,” the 22-year-old winner of the 2023 Auckland/ Hauraki Dairy Trainee of the Year says.

“We have had a lot of adverse weather with some trees down and on the runoff some paddocks got drowned, but overall, we have been lucky compared to many farmers.

“The animals are well fed and have coped well. They have loved the extra grass,” Rita says. She won $6950 in prizes and three merit awards.

Working for Sarah and Ethan Koch, Rita is 2IC on the 90-hectare Patetonga farm, owned by John and Cathy Van Beistervelt, milking 300 cows.

Rita grew up in Matamata where her mother was involved with racehorses.

“I’ve been around horses since I was little, but I love cows and the stock work which goes with them. Besides, cows don’t tend to bite as much as horses.”

Relief milking before and after school cemented Rita’s decision to make dairying her career. She did well at school, but enjoys the Primary ITO Level 3 and now Level 4 studies more because what’s she is learning is relevant to work.

Rita’s steepest learning curve so far came during calving when her manager was ill. Rita had to manage the cows, including planning and implementing pasture management.

“I was sorry my boss was unwell, but looking back it was a great experience. I was on my own during the day and was a ‘headless chook’ for the first few days, but I’m really proud I was able to push through and step up so quickly.”

Among the merit awards Rita won was a communication and industry involvement award which acknowledged the leadership role she plays in the Haruaki Young Farmers Club.

Rita organises the club’s hay project to raise funds and help local farmers with labour.

“We’ve picked up close to 7000 bales so far this season. It’s a great fundraiser and for me as someone new to the district, Young Farmers is a great way to meet people.”

The herd Rita milks is mainly Friesian with a few crossbred cows and a couple of Rita’s own Jerseys.

“I want to one day own a pure-bred Jersey herd. I love their nature. They are so placid and have big personalities,” Rita says.

She used to work for well-known Jersey breeders Lloyd and Anne Wilson of Densondale Jerseys in Matamata.

Rita is grateful to her past and present employers.

“They have put a lot of time and patience into teaching me and working with me. It’s a big thank you to them.”

Runner-up in the 2023 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Trainee Award was Cillian Aberhart.

Third place was not awarded.