Jackie Harrigan

Leah and Jacob Prankerd have been through incredibly hard times for a young couple on their way through the dairy industry but a new sharemilking job and winning the Taranaki Dairy Industry Awards Sharefarmer of the year award is putting a spring back in their steps.

In fact the smiles hardly leave the faces of the 27 and 26-year-olds, except when explaining about the lease farm job they struggled with for three years.

But the couple have been together for 11 years starting out as sweethearts at Inglewood High School and so understand each other’s weaknesses and strengths and have each other’s backs.

Jacob was a Tariki farm boy and went farming as soon as he left school, but Leah trained and worked as a beauty therapist before joining the banking industry and helping Jacob on the farm before and after work and at weekends.

While she had worked as a relief milker through school, Jacob says with pride “she’s a real farmer now”.

The young couple were helped into their first 50:50 job at just 19 and 20 years of age, with a farm owner who had been helped into it when he was young and wanted to pay the opportunity forward.

Jacob’s brother and sister-in-law, now based in the South Island, bought into the joint venture and his parents guaranteed the loan for the couple to set up their company Menai Limited, named after the Welsh strait where Jacob’s grandfather now rests.

“A link to the past, a bridge to the future” is their company motto.

They bought the cows in the high payout year and watched the payout plunge in the third year of that contract, but say they learned a lot and really threw themselves in at the deep end.

A lease farm followed south of Stratford and they increased their cow numbers to 300 to run on the rugged dairy land.

Production was lifted from 87,000kg milksolids (MS) to 107,000kg MS in the first year but with the payout low they had to let their worker go and that “was the most stressful time of our lives”.

They invested their own money to make the shed work for one man and installed in-shed feeding with a second-hand unit bought for $18,000 and then sold on later, recouping $15,000.

But the stress of low payout, a rugged farm and a high empty rate took a toll on the young couple and Jacob had a real struggle year saying he didn’t even realise or acknowledge the role Leah played in helping him out every milking, helping him make decisions and propping him up.

‘I only really realised during the DIA judging how much she helped me get through – now we know that the strength of our business is our team work and our ability to work towards a common goal.”

Despite taking production from 87,000 to 107,000kg MS the Prankerds found the job tough and look back at the toll on their health and wellbeing.

“It has made us aware of how important it is to get time off and to look after each other.”

Leah was working 45 minutes away, in her own business, with long days and many late nights and while she loved her clients, she says her passions have changed. Switching to banking and working for ASB Bank first in customer service and now as a rural account manager, she is loving taking her farming business knowledge to the next level while studying a Diploma of Agri Business Management through Primary ITO to compliment Jacob’s Modern Apprenticeship qualification.

“I took our accounts to work and worked on them for an afternoon to get myself to the next level of understanding them – it was reassuring to know that the things we did are taking us in the right direction.”

Their financial knowledge won them the Westpac Financial award in the DIA. The couple’s lease farm was sold to a bull breeding enterprise when they moved on to a 50:50 contract job owned by Andrew and Jill Adlam in the high-rainfall Midhirst district.

The Adlams are earth-moving contractors and have owned the farm for five years.

Moving to the property Jacob and Leah put a proposal to the Adlams as to what they could do with the farm – looking to lift production from 56,000kg MS by increasing cow numbers, installing in-shed feeding, not using palm kernel trailers on the hills and keeping control of pastures on the hillsides to maintain pasture quality.

“We have had a very generous season so far and are on target for 78,000kg MS.”

Arriving with experience of farming on hills and in a high rainfall environment has helped, Jacob says, along with a 4ha runoff to winter 40 cows for 40 days and being able to speed up the round on the hills to 14 days gets more mouths on the pasture in the growthy spring period.

“The Adlams loved our proposal, and accepted it with a few provisions – that we destock if we find supply is not meeting demand and we use PKE strategically when it’s dry.”

“We have now grown maize on the 4ha quarry block for silage, we will use it to increase production and enhance reproduction.”

The Prankerds have always grown extra young stock, so have leased their heifers out and milked 195 older cows for the first season and found homes for their 70 replacements. This season calving starts on August 1 after a May 10 dryoff and Jacob and Leah will rear 60 heifers – 20 over and above the 40 replacements needed.

They got into Jerseys in their first job because it was part of the contract and aligned with their love of the breed – “and I loved their great eyelashes,” Leah says.

But since then the couple have crossed with Friesians to create a more even line and aim for a 450kg cow producing 100% of her bodyweight.

Their first line of crossbreds is coming into the herd this year and the Prankerds want to stick with the smaller cow to cope with the 3.5 metre rainfall. While they have a three-year contract with the Adlams, the Prankerds are looking towards the next step, saying they would like to go to a 400-500 cow job and carry on their growth strategy of rearing extra cows.”

“This is an awesome ‘restart’ job – after our last tough one we are excited to keep looking for growth for our business.

“A lot of our learnings have been from mistakes and we were not keen about opening ourselves up to the mistakes, but we have learnt so much and were really surprised to have won.

“The judges were so great, helping us understand our reflections on past jobs and learning from that,” Jacob says.

“Staying true to ourselves and keeping it real are really important – and we have learnt of the importance of time off and looking after each other.

“You can milk every day and save every dime but if you are not getting anywhere … it’s not worth it.”

In their first season they only missed 11 milkings and went on their honeymoon three years after their wedding, but now Jacob and Leah have weekends off – when the other covers the milking. And now they are working towards actually having weekends off together, they laugh.

Good lines of communication with their farm consultant are important to get a good knowledge of the area, and great oversight of the farm. The couple really appreciate the positive affirmations and willingness of their farm owners to invest in the property.


DairyNZ Human Resources Award, Federated Farmers Leadership Award, Honda Farm Safety, Health and Biosecurity Award, Meridian Farm Environment Award – Sophie Parker and Matthew Thomas

Ecolab Farm Dairy Hygiene Award – James Lawn

LIC Recording and Productivity Award , Ravensdown Pasture Performance Award – Ryan Goble

Westpac Business Performance Award – Leah and Jacob Prankerd