Karen Trebilcock

Simone Smail’s transformation from city girl to farmer was celebrated by winning the 2018 Southland-Otago Dairy Trainee of the Year Award on March 21 at the Bill Richardson Transport World in Invercargill.

Simone went on to win the national title, Dairy Trainee of 2018, also at Invercargill, in early May.

Just a few years ago she was set to study hospitality and tourism at the Queenstown Resort College after finishing high school.

Now the 24-year-old is the herd manager on a 310-hectare Invercargill City Council farm at Awarua working for Steve and Tracy Henderson milking 780 cows.

She grew up in Invercargill with both of her parents working in offices and at high school she had studied tourism.

She was going to continue it at tertiary level but a gap year before heading to Queenstown saw her instead enrolled in an animal care course at home which led on to a large animal vet nursing course at the Southland Institute of Technology. It was there she discovered her passion for cows.

“Growing up in Invercargill I just had no exposure to farming at all which is, when you think about it, really weird because just 10 minutes out of town there are dairy farms,” Simone says.

“I had always loved being outdoors as a kid and loved animals but had not been able to study it at school so I didn’t know anything about it.

‘Growing up in Invercargill I just had no exposure to farming at all which is, when you think about it, really weird because just 10 minutes out of town there are dairy farms.’

“If someone had talked to me when I was at high school I would have got into farming a lot sooner. Now I’m really passionate about encouraging people to get involved in dairying.”

Last year she got to share her experiences talking to some of the city’s high school students as part of Venture Southland’s Youth Futures Programme, something she hopes to continue.

After the vet nursing course she studied general farm skills with Taratahi and through the course was introduced to Steve and Tracy.

It’s now Simone’s third season dairying with them and each of those years she has entered the trainee competition.

“When I started working for the Hendersons they were on the competition’s organising committee because they had won the 2014 Southland Otago Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year competition.

“So they knew a lot about it and they encouraged me to enter. They said go for it.

“The hardest part, though, is getting over the nerves of putting yourself in that position, of being judged, but I have learnt so much about myself doing it, and met so many people,” she says.

“And it’s been really good for me too because I can see how much I have learnt each time I’ve entered.

“Not growing up on a farm, everything I’ve learnt has been from what I’ve been doing, all the experiences I’ve had and entering each year has really shown me that.”

After three seasons she is now ready to move on to a 2IC position, but it will mean leaving the Hendersons.

“I’m still up in the air where I’ll go. I’ll have to start looking. Dairying is my passion and I want to keep climbing the ladder, so I have to move on.”

The Southland-Otago runner-up was 24-year-old farm assistant Shannon Bunn from Heriot and third was 24-year-old dairy manager Caycee Cormack also from Heriot.

Dairy Trainee Merit Awards:

Vetsouth Most Promising Entrant Award – Rebecca Harvey.

FarmRight Farming Knowledge Award, FMG Communication & Engagement Award, Malloch McClean Community and Industry Involvement Award, DairyNZ Practical Skills Award – Simone Smail.