Words by Sheryl Haitana, photo by Emma McCarthy

Rachael Foy took it upon herself to take two calves into a Huntly primary school and preschool last year to give children the experience of feeding and patting calves.
Her Huntaway, Bear, went along for the trip, and they visited the neighbouring retirement home as well.
“It was really cool, these kids don’t get the opportunity to see calves, let alone bottle feed them. I really enjoyed being able to give them that experience, and the elderly people really loved seeing the animals.
“It’s great to be able to demonstrate the dairy industry in a positive light.”
She would like to continue to be more involved with the wider dairy industry and community in the future through educating and showcasing dairy farming to school students and the public.
“I wish I could change the New Zealand public perception of the dairy industry and farmers and help them to understand how important dairying is for New Zealand.”
Getting out amongst the community to showcase dairy calves is just one of the things Rachael seems to find time for on top of her 750-cow contract milking job at Ohinewai, Huntly.
The 29-year-old is president of the Ohinewai Netball Club, coaches a junior netball team, as well as playing senior netball herself. She is a Waikato A&P Calf Judge, a calf judge convenor and historically has been heavily involved in the North Waikato Young Farmers Club. Her community involvement was reflected in winning the Federated Farmers Leadership Award at the 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Dairy Industry Awards.
Rachael was named 2021 Auckland/Hauraki Share Farmer of the Year and picked up four of the eight merit awards. She also won the LIC Recording & Productivity Award, Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award, and Westpac Business Performance Award.

Grass-based and low-input

It is her second year contract milking 750 cows for Malcolm and Eileen Lumsden and Roger and Roanne Lumsden at Huntly.
The Ohinewai farm is a spring calving System 2 operation which is focused toward profitable production rather than maximum production, Rachael says.
“A grass-based and low-input farm allows sustainability of the system regardless of the milk price and minimises environmental impact.”
The 427ha farm includes a 300ha milking platform and the rest is used as a runoff for young stock. Rachael helps oversee the young stock with the farm owners. Half of the farm is peat soil while the other half is sandy soil. The peat is wet in winter, but holds on for longer in summer and vice versa for the sandy half of the farm, giving refuge during the winter, but dries out quickly in the summer.
Parts of the Ohinewai farm are under the Lake Waikare level which lies to the back of the farm and can be prone to flooding, although it has yet to flood during Rachael’s time onfarm.
Having the two soil types helps give a good balance through the seasons, she says.
All cows are wintered onfarm, and graze a full paddock for three days, rather than break feeding. Rachael has been surprised at how well the farm owner’s winter grazing practice works.
“The cows don’t pug the soil and they are quite content. If we are feeding out we put the silage in on the first day and don’t go back into the paddock to feed out.”
The farm grows 12.6t DM/ha pasture. The team try to do fortnightly farm walks to monitor pasture cover. They grow maize silage and cut surplus grass for silage.They just yielded 300t from 11ha of maize. They also feed out 130t meal through the shed.

Body condition scoring

The farm has good technology which helps with animal recording and monitoring animal health closely.
The Body Condition Score (BCS) camera takes a daily record of the cow’s BCS, information which Rachael uses to know when to dry off lighter cows, or prioritise meal to certain cows.
They feed a small amount of meal through the shed for the first five months of the season and it’s great to be able to feed individual cows more if needed, Rachael says.
They also have a heat detection camera and ProTrack in their 56-bail rotary ,along with automatic drafting.
For the judging, Rachael was able to show benchmark figures of their herd’s animal health against the national and region averages.
Rachael introduced 3in2 milkings last summer which she carried on this season. Milking at 5am, 5pm one day and 11am the next day works well for the cows. They get less heat stress and don’t have to walk as much which reduces lameness, she says.
“The cows production was 1.3kg MS when we go onto 3in2 milkings, and it holds, they don’t drop production.
“The cows hold their body condition, they have less standing in the yard, less stress from the flies in summer, and it works well for staff.”
Rachael employs three full-time staff, plus a calf rearer/relief milker.
“I wanted to employ staff, that’s why I wanted a bigger contract milking job, rather than a smaller sharemilking job.
“A lot of my focus has been on getting to run my own business. I also like the ability to employ staff and develop them, and staff my weaknesses – without having to do everything myself.”
The staff are on a current roster of 9/1; /8/3 roster which during calving switches to 6/1; 6/2.
“The team like that roster as they get a three day weekend every three weeks and get a day off mid-week.”
Rachael grew up in the area on her parents’ small block of land, but had a love for farming and cows from an early age.
She loved calf club and became a judge while still at high school. She was also relief milking from the age of 12. After school, she studied for a Bachelor of Agriculture at Lincoln University. She wanted to work on-farm, but knew having a degree would broaden her options in the dairy industry.

Woman of ambition

Equity growth has been her key focus and building her business up to give her opportunities in the future.
“Sharemilking is an option I would consider in the future, but the right opportunity has to come up.”
She wants to stay in the Huntly area as she has built up her contacts in the district. Being single, it’s easier to stay around her family and friends and support network rather than moving to a new region, she says.
Being a young, single female has provided constant challenges for Rachael when trying to get ahead and believes people are a strength of her business.
“I have a great team of staff and have had supportive farm owners who have given me these opportunities.”
When she finished her degree, Rachael went straight into working in a second in charge (2IC) position milking 700 cows. She moved to a 500-cow farm as 2IC then progressed to manager. She contract-milked 400 cows for one season before stepping into her current job. Her networking helped get her this job as she heard about it and approached the farm owners before they advertised.
She first entered the Dairy Industry Awards as a manager in 2017 and won Dairy Manager for Auckland/Hauraki and later came third at nationals.
“The benefits of entering the Awards are numerous, including networking, benchmarking yourself, the prizes, raising my profile and the National finals week,” she says.
Entering for the first time this year in the Share Farmer category was an opportunity to do an in-depth financial analysis of her business.
“I wanted to measure myself as well as connecting with other people in the region and getting my name out there.”
The Westpac Business Performance Award is the biggest percentage of marks in the judging process and Rachael spent a lot of time preparing her information.
“Our production figures on this farm are not the highest, but as a contract milker I can still be profitable.
“The farm owners want an efficient, profitable, environmentally-sustainable system.”
Rachael is currently building a house in a new subdivision at Te Kauwhata which she plans to either rent out or sell to keep building on her equity.

Auckland/Hauraki Share Farmer Merit Awards:

DairyNZ Human Resources Award – Ilona Pohlmann and Michael Green
Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – Danielle Hovmand
Federated Farmers Leadership Award – Rachael Foy
Honda Farm Safety, Health & Biosecurity Award – Ilona Pohlmann and
Michael Green
LIC Recording & Productivity Award – Rachael Foy
Meridian Farm Environment Award – Ilona Pohlmann and Michael Green
Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Rachael Foy
Westpac Business Performance Award – Rachael Foy