After six years dairying in Southland Jess Goodwright is leading the local Dairy Women’s Network. Karen Trebilcock reports.
Being shoulder-tapped for a voluntary role is one of the best things that has happened to southern dairy farmer Jess Goodwright.
She and her young family moved six years ago to a dairy farm between Invercargill and Riverton from Otaua in North Waikato and after about a year she started going to Dairy Women’s Network (DWN) events.
“I needed to get off the farm and meet people. We didn’t know a lot of people down here.”
Katrina Thomas wanted someone to be a DWN co-convener for the area with her and she asked Jess if she wanted to do it.
Three years later she is now the DWN Central Southland Regional Group leader and loving it.
“There is lots of young people dairying down here and everyone wants to learn and share ideas.
“We’re also pretty social. No one wants to be stuck onfarm so we do a lot of things together and that side of it is just as important,” she says.
“I remember when I first came down here I was at the supermarket and someone called out my name and I didn’t turn around because I knew it wasn’t me, but it was. That feeling that I had bumped into someone who knew me was great so we really try to get people together so no one has that feeling of isolation.”
A calf-rearing day she organised this year had about 60 people attend and it was supported by the DWN partners ASB, LIC, Ballance, SealesWinslow, Deosan , Crowe Horwath, Xero, Primary ITO, CashManager Rural, Meridian, Figured, Allflex, Fonterra, DairyNZ and MSD.
“All our partners are amazing and are always offering us speakers and any support we need. Making sure we run to time is usually my biggest problem because everyone wants to talk and learn more.”
Jess also goes to DWN annual national conferences and other training and events including this year two days of DWN training at the Fonterra headquarters on the Auckland Viaduct.
“It was such an informative few days. We had great speakers and we learnt so much and got taken on a tour through the building and found out more about Fonterra. I wouldn’t have been there if I wasn’t part of DWN.
“And it’s amazing the people you meet. The networking is great and the people are so inspirational, so passionate about dairying.
‘Before the payout started to go down we decided to winter at home and to cut numbers from 1000 to 800. Then when it really went down the following year we were okay.’
“You end up sitting next to industry leaders and meeting them for the first time and getting to know them.
“Being part of the DWN Southern Regional Hub is a real honour. You work with such a supportive team of amazing ladies. We were all honoured to see Katrina winning the Dairy Community Leadership Award at conference this year. The emotions that our team felt for her when she won made us all feel like we are part of a family.”
The DWN modules which were on a variety of topics and held throughout the country were great to organise, she says.
“They may sound a bit scary to farmers because you’re coming to an event to learn something but it’s not like going back to school. It’s really friendly and everyone shares their knowledge plus we always make sure we have great food.
“At one of them last year a husband dropped off his wife and we encouraged him to stay, or at least come for the lunch and stay for the afternoon. And he did. The next time we had one he stayed for the whole day.”
Jess and her husband Lyall contract milk 800 cows for a family friend and are progressing towards buying a third family farm.
The extended family already owns two dairy farms in Southland, one next door and the other in Tuatapere which Lyall’s two brothers manage.
They moved down after Lyall’s parents sold the family dairy farm in North Waikato and decided Southland was where they could expand their business and help each son into their own dairy farm.
“Lyall’s parents are still very much involved on the three farms and without their ongoing support we all wouldn’t be able to have the dream of owning a farm,” Jess says.
When the dairy downturn hit, the family had already made the tough decisions and were ready.
“Before the payout started to go down we decided to winter at home and to cut numbers from 1000 to 800,” she says. “Then when it really went down the following year we were okay.”
Wintering at home and reducing the herd size to do it made sense and not just economically. Instead of having to travel to Te Anau regularly to winter the cows, they were on the platform grazing fodder beet. And the reduced numbers took the stress off the couple and their staff.
“Calving 800 cows is so much easier than 1000. It’s only 200 animals but it seems a lot more when there are that less calves to pick up in the paddock, that less calves to get used to the feeders.
“We have a great team that works with us on farm, some have been with us for years and we consider them all a huge part of our lives. Without them we couldn’t do what we do.”
Jess rears the calves, including the 200 to 250 replacements, and helps out on the farm as needed, milking, shifting stock and setting up breaks. She also does the paperwork and looks after their farm-mad kids Lilly (8), Oliva (6) and Austin (1).
“When they’re not at school they go with us everywhere, do everything with us. They love it. It’s such a great way to bring up kids.”
As well, she also works for DairyNZ DairyBase and is finishing a diploma in Agribusiness with Primary ITO.
“Working for DairyNZ is another great opportunity to be a part of the dairy industry and meeting farmers to collect data for benchmarking,” she says.
“For DWN I usually do about 10 to 15 hours a month but when we are busy calving everything stops which is how you want it. Everyone is busy onfarm and no one has time to go to anything, or have me for DairyBase so it all works really well.”
She doesn’t miss the muggy heat of the North Island and her side of the family has also slowly followed her to Southland with two sisters moving a few years after her and now her mum in the last year.
“It was a hard decision to move so far away from family and friends but now with almost all of our immediate family here it’s a lot better. We only have to convert Lyall’s sister and a few cousins.”