Award-winners have 40 in their sights
Kerry and Anita Higgins and their two young daughters barely had time to celebrate their success at the 2017 New Zealand Dairy Industry Awards before they were on the move – to Culverden to contract- milk for the Harakeke Dairy Ltd Partnership.
It’s just seven years since Kerry left behind a career in security (he was a senior security officer at Parliament).
In March, he was named 2017 Canterbury-North Otago Dairy Manager of the Year and then, in May, national runner-up.
He alsowon the national dairy management and financial management and planning awards.
“I had to pinch myself really hard after being in Auckland for the national awards. Considering the calibre of the other entrants, I almost felt like I had imposter syndrome when they started announcing I’d won these awards!” Kerry credits the complementary skills he and Anita have developed as a key part of their success.
Kerry takes care of stock and farm management and Anita has a strong role in managing finance and administration.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Kerry, who grew up on a high-country station near Lake Benmore,has no regrets about stepping away from life as a security officer in favour of the dairy industry.
“There was a lot of standing around waiting for something to happen and, of course, nothing ever really does happen in New Zealand. When Hillary Clinton came on a parliamentary visit, the most exciting part was watching these secretservice guys running around just like they do in the movies.”
He and Anita started in dairying with Anna and Sam O’Reilly, near Darfield.
After two years there, they began cold-calling other good operators in the area to scout out opportunities, and let people know who they were and what their goals were.
A second-in-command role came up with Leon and Bronwyn McKavanagh at Hororata, and the following year they took over management of the 433-hectare, 1340-cow farm.
A lot of effort last season went into developing staff to take over the running of the two herds in preparation for the HIggins’ move to Culverden. “The owners’ son, Nathan, came on board and worked underneath me for the year, so the process of handover ran pretty smoothly,” says Kerry.
Contract milking is now the next step, which the couple hope will lead to farm ownership.
The position with the Harakeke Dairy appealed because they knew there was a supportive community in Culverden and the challenge of running a farm without owners living on site.
Farm management now involves reporting to a board and working with a farm consultant.
“It’s a real change from where we have come from.” says Kerry.
“I was already doing a lot of staff management, but it does feel different now. When they’re your own staff and you’re paying the bills, there’s more personal responsibility involved.”
Another adjustment has been getting used to the heavier soils at Culverden, which at least come with the bonus of being easier to fence.
This season;s production targets for the 216-hectare dairy platform milking 750 cows are 330,000 kilograms of milksolids – around 450kg per cow, and in line with local levels.
Kerry believes his goal of farm ownership by 40 remains realistic.
He and Anita are motivated by wanting to provide a family home for their two children, Mackenzie, three and Emerson, seven months.
“Turning 40 is seven years away,” says Kerry.
“I think we can get there. You never know what will happen, but you have to be positive.”