Sheryl Haitana

Tom Bridgens is wasting no time to reach his goal of being his own boss and owning his own dairy farm by the time he’s 30.

The 22-year-old shifted back from Sydney and went straight into contract milking 300 cows for Rex and Loris Bates at Tokoroa.

The 2019 Central Plateau Share Farmer has always had a passion for dairy farming. He grew up on his parents’ dairy farm in the Waikato where they milked 100 cows, started relief milking at 13 and was often found out on the farm helping out.

“Dairy farming was always a big passion, it’s something I’ve always seen myself doing. I like the lifestyle and that no two days are the same.”

Because of the smaller scale of his parents’ farm he knew there wasn’t a place for him, so after Tom left school he got a job as a farm assistant on a nearby farm. He worked alongside the farm owner milking 460 cows between the pair.

“I was chucked into the deep end but I loved it. The following season the owner milked 520 cows and employed another staff member and I was the 2IC.”

After two years, Tom decided he wanted to enjoy a few years abroad before he settled down on his quest to farm ownership.

“I wanted to go and see the world while I was young and before I had any real responsibilities.”

He travelled through the United Kingdom and Europe for 18 months, before moving to Sydney for 18 months.

In Sydney he worked in the construction industry and embraced the urban lifestyle, enjoying weekends at the beach and spending time out in town with friends.

“It wasn’t a sustainable place to live, things like the traffic and the amount of people start building up on you. It’s also very competitive – it’s not like farming where everyone is your mate.”

When he knew it was time to move home, Tom applied for farming positions while he was still in Sydney and was successful in getting his current contract milking position. He had managed his savings well so he had enough equity to skip farm management and start his own business.

Moving back to rural NZ has certainly being a bit of an adjustment but farming is where his heart is.

“It was a big lifestyle change leaving the city. At first I was seeing what my mates were up to and felt like I was missing out, but I’m living a lifestyle where I really enjoy what I do.

“You spend most of your life working so I believe you’ve got to love what you do.”

Tom decided to enter the Dairy Industry Awards in his first year of contract milking because it was the ultimate platform to measure his performance and teach him the right skills for the future.

“I thought it would direct me in the right direction, before I got into any bad habits.”

The Dairy Industry Awards has accelerated his knowledge of the financial side of his business and he was happy to win the Westpac Business Performance Award.

“I started this job nine months ago, I’ve learnt so much on how to run a successful financial side of things, doing budgets and GST.”

Tom is on a tight savings schedule to be able to go sharemilking next year and is running under budget onfarm.

“I split spending into wants and needs, I drive a $1000 car and I’m happy with that. I’m coming way under my budget.

“I’m building my equity through rearing young stock. I’ve been buying heifer calves and my parents are rearing them on their 40ha block. My parents have been really supportive, teaching me how to do the GST or helping me milk.

“I’m open to going anywhere for the right job because you have to take the opportunities that come along. Ideally I’d like to stay in the Waikato to be close to friends and family.”

Tom is contracted for another season at Rex and Loris’, and his goal is to be able to go sharemilking up 260-280 cows in 2020.

Sharemilking positions are getting particularly hard to find in the Waikato, and the Dairy Industry Awards are an excellent way to put your name further up the list of candidates, Tom says.

Tom has studied Level 2 and 3 through Primary ITO, but he’s aware he doesn’t have an agricultural degree. He’s first and foremost a practical person who enjoys learning on the job.

“I learn a lot through DairyNZ information. My farm owner Rex is also a great mentor for me. Rex has farmed here for 30 years so who knows how to run the farm better than him. I just put my own spin on it.”

Winning the Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award was rewarding because he has old infrastructure onfarm.

“I have a really old cowshed, about 30 years old, so I work hard to keep it clean. It’s only me during spring when I have lots of other jobs, I make sure once or twice a week I do a good clean down.”

Tom also won the LIC Recording and Productivity Award and the Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award. The DairyNZ System 3 operation spends money on growing grass through fertiliser and undersowing 40% of the farm annually, he says.

He increased cow numbers during spring because he saw the opportunity to make extra production with surplus feed.

“It’s about turning grass growth into production. I milked extra during the peak and now have less cows. This system revolves around maximising grass growth and maximising as much production as possible.”

While entering the awards is time consuming, it’s a great experience and a unique opportunity to network with other farmers, Tom says.

“There are so many people in the industry and the wider community that want to help you. If you’re willing to take that step, people are willing to help you.”

Tom says he wants to give people a good experience when they start off in the dairy industry, either as a share milker or farm owner.

“I have a vision of owning my own farm by the time I’m 30. I want to run a profitable business and raise a family and be able to help other people, like I’ve been helped.”


DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Bruce and Jo Husband.

Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award, LIC Recording and Productivity Award, Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award, Westpac Business Performance Award – Tom Bridgens.

Federated Farmers Leadership Award, Meridian Farm Environment Award – Anthony and Danelle Kiff.

Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award – Grant and Anika Sandford