Not many 18-year-olds have plans of putting down a deposit on a house in their near future but Alice Gysbertsen is not your average teenager.
Some might even say she is mature for her age – it’s in her values, her ambitions and her accomplishments.
It’s as if her skill in dairy farming was a genetic trait running through her veins. For as long as she can remember, Alice has been working beside her father, Bart, in the dairy fields.
Bart recalls a four-year-old girl popping her head out of the window, watching him with curiosity as he walked onto the fields for the early morning milking. Once she became old enough she was right there with him.
“It’s always been her thing,” Bart says. For Alice it was just her way of life. “Well, I’ve always been on a farm,” she says matter of factly.
Many things might explain why Alice possesses a work ethic to be reckoned with. When asked about her siblings, she plainly remarks “Yep. I’ve got lots of them.” Alice is the second eldest of eight children, the youngest being only three-months-old. And because her family traveled around from farm to farm Alice was homeschooled most of her childhood. With that, her mum and dad were able to instill in her some of their own personal values.
But Alice always preferred farm work to schoolwork. After her 11th year she ditched the school system, which is the earliest a student can leave. She had already been working part time on a farm but she was eager to make a career out of it, which led her to AgITO.
At 16, while also working on a dairy farm of roughly 500 cows in Wairarapa, Alice began her level three AgITO training. She zipped through those modules in a year and quickly moved on to level four, which she has just finished.
Alice says AgITO has expanded her views on farming, While she always enjoyed the practical side of things, the programme’s theoretical approach has proved to be beneficial in boosting her knowledge and ultimately her career in dairy farming.
“It’s been good to learn things that otherwise you wouldn’t learn,” she says. Once she receives her level four assessments Alice will move to level five where she’ll learn about agribusiness. Although she enjoys the hands-on work more, she understands the importance of business in the industry. “The business side can’t hurt to learn more about because it’s going that way more and more,” she says. “It’s just a new challenge.”
With a quiet confidence, Alice accepts any challenge that might come her way. She is second in charge at a smaller scale dairy farm of about 180 cows and enjoys any additional obligations when her manager Suzanne Butcher is away.
“Responsibility is always a challenge and I enjoy a challenge so whatever comes, comes and you deal with it,” she says. It is that go-with-the-flow attitude that makes her such a strong worker — never succumbing to stress but taking it by the horns instead.
AgITO must have seen that fire in her because she was deemed both the Best Practical Skills Trainee and the Top Trainee of the Year at the Wairarapa AgriAwards in Masterton in April. They were wins Alice modestly calls “unexpected”.
Her humility might have something to do with the fact that she’s always been the youngest at everything outside her family: the youngest worker on a farm, the youngest trainee in class. She even received her artificial insemination certificate at age 16. For a while no one in the course knew how young she actually was until someone finally asked her. “Um. 16?” she replied apprehensively, not sure if there was some sort of rule against it.
And it’s all for the cows. An animal lover through and through, Alice sets her goals around one day owning stock and being a 50/50 sharemilker. She favours working with a smaller number of cows so she can get to know them individually, like pets.
Suzanne’s farm of about 180 cows is a perfect size for Alice. “These cows are so nice. They’re just pets. It’s really cool, you can go up to them and scratch them,” she says. Some of the more special cows even have names.
At this rate, Alice is destined for big things and she’s not stopping until she gets there. If it means she has to save up money for a house to build up equity or juggle AgITO and work every day, so be it.
“She’s got her own ideas and dreams and that’s what she wants to do,” Bart says. “She’s not swayed by what other people say or think. She just has her goals and that’s what she’s going to go for.”
– Hannah Cook, Young Country Magazinetweet