Words by Sheryl Haitana, photos by Emma McCarthy

Stephanie Walker says stepping into her first manager’s role autumn calving 620 cows in a System 5 operation has involved taking a giant three steps up from working as a second in charge (2IC).
Stephanie works for Kauri Moor, a family farm in Huntly owned by Bruce and Kay Darby, with their sons Rhys and Phillip as equity partners. The business consists of two dairy farms, a young stock and beef runoff and a new sheep milking business.
It’s a big business with a lot of technology in the shed, high inputs and she is also managing two staff for the first time.
“It’s been a huge challenge – being that person who has to make the decision, not relying on someone else to do it.”
However, Stephanie has always been a quick learner and was named the Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Manager of the Year 2021.
She has climbed the ladder quickly after coming into the dairy industry, especially given she has no farming background.
She spent three seasons as a farm assistant then two years as a 2IC role, before succeeding to her current position.
The 26-year-old grew up in Whakatane and went to Massey University with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. When she missed out on getting accepted into the highly competitive Bachelor of Veterinary Science after the first semester, she decided to switch to a Bachelor of Agricultural Science.
A lot of her friends were studying agriculture and they opened her eyes to the career opportunities within the dairy industry.
She finished her first year at Massey, but was itching to get out into the workforce so she got a job as a farm assistant.
“I’m quite an academic person, but when I finished that first year I really wanted to start making my way.”

Steep learning curve

At her first job she was so fresh she didn’t even know how to ride a two-wheel motorbike. Stephanie has had to learn all of the practical skills of working with machinery and animals, as well as all of the theory. She gained Primary ITO Level 3 and 4 in Dairy and she is also continuing studying her degree extramurally.
“I found Level 4 really interesting, it’s very farm focused, you have to write weekly reports on your farm, so it’s very specific to your farm and it was really engaging. I found that a great learning experience.”
She first entered the Dairy Industry Awards as a Dairy Trainee as another way to quickly gain more knowledge and skills. In addition, she saw it as an opportunity to benchmark herself.
“I found it a really good learning experience and it exposed my strengths and weaknesses – particularly in fencing,” she laughs.
She won the 2017 Manawatu Dairy Trainee of the Year and says the week spent at the Nationals with all of the regional winners was priceless.
Saying the networking is great is cliche, but it is cliche for a reason. Surrounding yourself with other people in the industry on the same career paths is so motivating, she says.
“You make so many friendships with like-minded people who you can use as sounding boards. They’re all young and enthusiastic about the dairy industry and have the industry’s best interest at heart, which is really positive.
“It’s really hard to hear the negative press on the dairy industry sometimes, so it’s really good to have that association.”
It’s also a great place to find yourself a mentor, with people willing to volunteer their time and advice to help you progress, she says.
She wanted to enter the awards this year as a Dairy Manager to benchmark herself and get feedback on her progression plans.

Reaping the managerial benefits

Stephanie had planned to go contract milking, but now believes staying in a manager or operational manager role is a good way to build equity while maintaining a good lifestyle. She tries to make it back down to her hometown of Whakatane regularly on her time off to see family and to volunteer with the fire brigade.
“Time off is really important to me, and, making a good manager’s salary, I can have that while also building my equity through off-farm investment.”
She bought a house in Whakatane last year as her first step in building equity and has a plan to go 50/50 sharemilking in the next eight years.
“I would like to go sharemilking one day, it would be nice when you work so hard to have something of your own at the end.”
Stephanie won two merit awards at the regional awards, including the Nick Hoogeveen & AMP Associates Leadership Award and Fonterra Dairy Management Award and $6975 in prizes.
“It has been priceless to be able to surround myself with like-minded individuals. The Awards have been amazing and provided incredible opportunities for my career.”
Stephanie has been farming for five years, and is in her first year managing the 218ha Kauri Moor farm in Huntly.
Stephanie identifies Kauri Moor’s environmental focus as a strength of the business. “It gives the next generation the best chance of being able to enjoy the farming lifestyle like I have been fortunate to do.”
“Evolving technology is another strength of our farm. From milk quality to feeding levels, the farm is always looking at ways to improve technology to make better decisions onfarm.”
Feeding and maintaining happy healthy cows, her staff and a desire to do better today than yesterday are a few things that drive Stephanie during the harder times onfarm.
“I would change the few employers that still run very tough rosters if I could,” says Stephanie.
“Mental health is so often compromised in the dairy industry and it is important we all look after our own and provide conditions and rosters that allow staff to perform at their peak.”


Campbell Tyson Ltd Employee Engagement Award – Quinn Youngman
Nick Hoogeveen & Associates Leadership Award – Stephanie Walker
Franklin Vets Feed Management Award – Rebecca Casidy and Alexander Voysey
Delaval Livestock Management Award – Jimmy Cleaver
Fonterra Dairy Management Award – Stephanie Walker
NZDIA Power Play Award – Rebecca Casidy and Alexander Voysey
Westpac Personal Planning & Financial Management Award – Quinn Youngman