Awards take pair outside comfort zone

Awards take pair outside comfort zone
Hilary and Simon Vallely took out the Southland Otago 2018 Share Farmer of the Year award and the Dairy NZ Human Resources title at the nationals in May.

Being prepared to step outside their comfort zone contributed to winning the 2018 Dairy Industry Awards Southland-Otago Share Farmers of the Year regional competition in March and the Dairy NZ Human Resources award in the national finals in May, Gore couple Simon and Hilary Vallely say.
Despite the 50:50 sharemilker’s willingness and whole-hearted effort to take on the challenge, emerging as winners still came as a surprise, Simon says.
“When we set out to do this I don’t think we thought we would actually win. It’s something we are very proud of, and we did put a lot of hours of work into preparing for it.”
With a 490 cow farm to run and three children aged one to five, setting time aside was not easy.
“There was a lot of evenings through January, February spent on it, getting information together, but it was very rewarding.” Entering was like opening up their business for a full audit, he says.
“We were at the stage in our business when we felt we would benefit from going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and finding out some areas to work on.”
Two key areas of focus were health and safety, which “we completely pulled to bits” with the help of Ant Sutherland, of Sutherland On Farm Solutions, and environmental management with input from Fonterra sustainability adviser, Brian Goodger.
The Vallely’s employ Tanya Shailer and Nonoy Durango who have worked for them for seven years and five years respectively, and who are a great asset to the business.
“We do have good staff and they do stick around and for our business that’s really valuable because we have continuity.”
Simon says he and Hilary were “pretty happy with ourselves, but pretty humbled” to receive the human resources award, which he believed validated their approach to how they manage their staff.
A key to retaining staff is treating them the same as they would want to be treated as employees, communicating clearly, openly and honestly and allowing time off-farm during the off season, he says.
The Vallely’s, who both grew up on sheep and beef farms, have just completed their fourth season as 50:50 sharemilkers on the 170 effective farm owned by David and Valerie Strafford at Charlton, just south of Gore. Simon & Hilary have both been dairy farming for nine seasons.
A previous position as 25% lower order sharemilkers at Hillend, near Balclutha, about 650 cows allowed the couple to build up their own herd.
“When we went to Hillend we didn’t have a lot of experience, but we just backed our work ethic and it was really tough at the start, but we just made it work by getting out of our comfort zone and worked hard and the results came.”
“We increased production by 40,000kg of milk solids with no more cows or extra feed and we found out what we were made of, because we just had to make it work in a challenging environment and we did that quite successfully.”
With that experience and success added to their curriculum vitae, they actively pursued their present position against competition from other applicants.
“We were keen to get off the challenges of the hills at a higher altitude to a farm where you can drive per-cow production.
“It’s a good farm, it’s flat and square and it grows a lot of grass, so it’s a good sharemilking farm.”
Hilary has a key role on the farm; as well as being busy with the three children, she is the driver of the health and safety, deals with most of the human resources side of the business and loves being involved in the cow’s breeding and overall health.
Total production last season, from 475 cows peak milked, was 213,000kgMS, 1330kgMS/ha or 448kgMS per cow which was a farm record.
Due to the summer drought this season’s production is expected to be about 205,000kgMS, but the Vallely’s are still happy with this figure.
Looking forward, their goal is to achieve 100% of the cows’ live weight in milk solids and 220,000kgMS within the current production system, while maintaining a healthy work/life balance for themselves and their staff.
“Between now and 2020 we want to pay off as much debt as possible to put us in a very strong position to buy our own 400 to 500 cow farm.”
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