Sometimes it pays to just let go

Sometimes it pays to just let go
Chad Winke (second from left) with 2IC Jen Hodgson (at left), Brian Smaller (maintenance), and farm workers Jason MacDonald and Josephine Esmeria.

While letting go can be challenging, it can also offer the greatest of rewards. Waikato dairy farmer Chad Winke says that when he fi rst got into farming it was all about the cow itself.
He was passionate about the animals, the breeding and their health – he still is but over the years he has become just as passionate about managing people and watching them develop.
Originally hailing from the Midwestern state of Iowa in the US, Chad and his wife Jan are now approaching their 6th season farming a 215ha dairy platform in the little settlement of Walton, near Matamata.
Initially engaged as low order sharemilkers on a three-year contract, Chad and Jan approached the farm owners when that term neared completion with a proposal to transition to split calving, taking on a 50/50 role with a 20% stake in the herd, continuing as low order for the balance, for a further three years.
Agreed to, that term is a year away from completion and discussions are now under way to look at the next stage in Chad and Jan’s farming evolution. But perhaps it is a revolution in Chad’s management style that has had the greatest impact.
“Over the last five years I have found the more I move away from things like milking, the better I am at making decisions, making purchases, and taking care of the grass.
“Profitability wise we’ve done better as I have made myself more a people manager, providing farm guidance rather than a labour unit in the shed.”
With three full time staff and a part timer, Chad has recently made a further step in his journey by promoting one of his staff to 2IC herd manager, handing over responsibility for pasture management.
Learning from his own lessons of stepping back as a labour unit, Chad saw an opportunity to do the same thing with one of his staff, growing them with responsibility so that in a year’s time they might be ready to move on and manage a farm on their own.
So, not only was Chad stepping back from the daily tasks on the farm like milking, he was also transferring some management responsibility to his newly promoted 2IC.
“That took me a bit to get used to and was a bit of a challenge at first. It was a mindset thing. But after stepping away from it for two months it has now become the status quo.”
He says he is always there as the operational manager, advising on rotation speed, providing back-up and support, as and when needed.
“I’m confident in what they’re doing and I also know I can give them feedback or change things if need be. It’s been learning from both ends – they’ve been learning about making decisions while I’m learning about being able to manage slightly differently. It’s nice to be developing someone else.”
Chad and Jan’s approach to developing people and providing them with opportunities extends to their busy spring calving period, employing an agricultural student from the United States as a calf rearer each year.
“It’s an opportunity for them to come and learn about a different dairy system,” explains Chad.
“It opens their eyes to the fact that there isn’t necessarily a right way or a wrong way – just different ways that work.”
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