By Anne Hardie

When Lisa Peeters arrived in New Zealand just over two years ago she couldn’t believe the cows were grazing outside on grass.

Now she is the 2022 West Coast/Top of the South Dairy Trainee of the Year and making decisions about pasture allocation.

Lisa grew up on a family dairy farm in Canada where they housed 180 cows indoors, calved them year-round and milked twice a day every day of the year. Cows were always calving and there were always cows dried off.

When she was 16 the farm was sold and she went on to work on a sheep farm, then a beef bull stud, before training as a vet nurse with a focus on large animals, especially sport and performance horses.

By her mid-20s she needed a break and headed to New Zealand on a rural exchange programme.

After just a five-minute skype with sharemilkers, Mark and Debbie van Beek, she headed to the other side of the world for a job on Mawhera Incorporation’s 240-hectare, 400-cow farm near Hokitika. She was met with three weeks of solid rain without a day of sunshine, but it didn’t put her off and instead of a holiday break and a three-year holiday visa, she is intending to apply for a resident visa and continue her career in dairying.

She has even bought her dog, a miniature American Shepherd, out to NZ now she has long-term ambitions to stay here.

Her farming background and vet nursing set her up well for animal health but managing cows on pasture was a whole new experience and moving a break was a foreign concept.

“I have awesome employers. I knew absolutely nothing, but Mark says there is no such thing as a stupid question.”

The farm lies in the Arahura Valley and is at high risk of flooding in a rainfall that gets close to three metres a year. Weather forecasts are closely monitored for grazing decisions, yet her employers already have confidence in her ability to take charge of the farm.

“Two years ago I did my first farm walk and now I’m in charge of feed allocation, culling cows, mating decisions, pasture walks and pasture allocation, and animal health. I’m really happy doing anything with cows but if it’s anything with a tractor, I can just survive.”

Since she began working on the farm, she has been studying through AgITO and is now completing level 5, with plans to do an artificial breeding (AB) course as well.

She entered the awards to test her farm knowledge and learn more about the industry which she says has so many more career opportunities than in her home country.

“Over here there is so much opportunity for growth – you can start at the bottom level and there are so many opportunities presented and you can take any opportunity you like. My goal is to leave all my doors open.”

Those opportunities give her the chance to progress to a farm manager position and then further down the track become a contract milker.