Emma Lewin grew up in town, but she loves her chosen career in agriculture and is carving out a name for herself as a top young shepherd, taking out this year’s Tararua Shepherd of the Year. Rebecca Harper went to meet her.

Seeing animals grow and knowing she has played a part in influencing that is one of Emma Lewin’s favourite things about shepherding.

The 25-year-old from Bulls has been shepherding for six years and hopes soon to move up to stock management level. A finalist in the Tararua Shepherd of the Year competition last year, she was blown away to take the title this year. Emma has been in her job as shepherd general for Pohuetai Farms, owned by the Knight family, for 18 months. The farm, near Dannevirke, is 2000 hectares in total, but she works mainly on the Tara block, which is 655ha (effective).

“The whole farm is a combination of stud cattle and commercial breeding ewes, with a small handful of breeding cows. We fatten our own lambs as well as buying in a lot of lambs and trade cattle each year.”

Working under the block manager on Tara, she has responsibility for the two-tooths and hoggets that go to a terminal sire.

“I grew up in a little town called Bulls, though it is quite a rural town and we had a farm over the back fence from us. I went to high school in Feilding and did ag as a subject right from Year 9,” she says.

“When I was about 16 I started relief milking to earn some money in the weekends and holidays. It was then I went on a taster course at Taratahi and started to think farming could be a job for me. Before that I thought I was going to be an army medic.

“Also, my mum’s friend was a dairy farmer when I was growing up, as a kid she was an inspiration – and still is.”

Emma left school and went to Taratahi, where she gained her Level 2 & 3 sheep & beef certificates and the Level 4 sheep certificate.

Her first job was in the Rakaia Gorge, mid-Canterbury, on a sheep, beef and deer property. She worked there for two years and during that time did night school and completed a Diploma in Agriculture from Lincoln University.

From there, she took a job working for Landcorp in Te Anau. “That was a sheep, beef and deer property, with a red hind stud. I was on the sheep and beef fattening unit and looked after different progeny trials, measured pasture cages and all sorts.”

Travel beckoned and Emma then spent two years overseas, first in Australia and then Scotland. She did all sorts, from being a rousie to driving tractors, pressing wool, looking after stud cattle, being a lambing assistant and even salt gritting the roads in winter – done at night when the temperature was below zero. After saving up and travelling around Europe for three months solid, Emma ran out of money and it was time to come home – she got the job at Pohuetai almost immediately.

“I’m quite experienced now and the stock manager doesn’t dictate the stock shifts on Tara. I know where everything is and when it needs doing I will go ahead and shift them. If bulls or cattle need weighing we will quite often do it together, but I can do it by myself too. We also work together between the two blocks, if we are drenching 1000 lambs I will go down and help.”

Emma says she was drawn to farming when she was younger because it was an adventure. “Being outdoors was a massive appeal. Being hands on and seeing things grow and knowing you have influenced them.

“I still love the adventure, moving big mobs of ewes across paddocks and getting photos. I love working with cattle too, they are really smart creatures and have great personalities,” she says.

“It’s a really cool life to live, and get paid to do it. It’s really rewarding, especially when you see something get born and then two years later it’s big enough to have its own babies. I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it. It’s definitely a rewarding job when it reflects in the growth rates of stock or a premium at the works.”

Emma plans to stay in the agriculture sector and would love to give stock management a crack. “I think I’m at the stage where I’m ready, I have a lot to offer and think I could influence production, in a good way. Stock rotations, breeding policies, stock recs – all that stuff fascinates me. I’m more focused on management than owning a farm, at this stage.”

Her desire to succeed and continue learning are evidenced by the fact she is still studying, this time towards production management through Primary ITO. “This is important for my professional development, if I want to succeed.”

She entered the Shepherd of the Year competition last year and was a finalist. “I like a good challenge and my boss encouraged me to give it a go. I didn’t know what to expect, but my resolution was, I can’t stay the same, I have to improve. This year the goal was to be better than I was before and to get my name out there as good employee.

“All the finalists were diverse and everyone had their strengths. It was a massive personal achievement (to win), I was so elated.”

The Shepherd of the Year winner was announced at the Farmer of the Year field day, held at Simon and Elle Joblin’s farm. ANZ’s Sally Terry said Emma impressed the competition judges with her technical knowledge around animal health, pasture covers, and target feeding levels.

She was able to share a lot of detail about mob sizes, current live weights, rotation lengths and had a clear understanding of what these details would look like in six months. “Emma’s drive and curiosity to keep learning really impressed us, with the determination and dedication shown to achieve further education while working full time.

One Curious Kiwi Shepherd

Emma has her own Facebook page, One Curious Kiwi Shepherd, where she posts photos, videos and explanations of daily life on the farm.

“It started off as a travel blog, One Curious Kiwi, for my family to see what I was doing. But I enjoyed writing and wanted to put something positive out there about farming, so I kept going.”

If there’s something big happening on the farm, like shearing, docking or weaning, Emma will post photos or a short video, along with an explanation. “I try to explain it the best I can for non-farming people because most of my family are not farming.”

She loves taking photos, so this is the perfect place to post them, and finds videos are the most popular. “I did a video about shearing and what I love – the atmosphere in the shed, the music – that video went all over Australia.

“I think it’s a good way of promoting farming, because everyone is on social media these days.”

  • Find Emma on Facebook: facebook.com/1curiouskiwi