Chris Ferguson’s early experience of dairying was spraying cows’ teats with a bottle in his grandparent’s 12-aside shed.
And as much as the Otorohanga lad enjoyed spending time on his grandparents’ farm, the plan was to join the army. So Chris left school halfway through Year 13 to work on a dairy farm and save money in preparation for his military career – which didn’t happen.
Chris Ferguson is 2016’s Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year.
“I enjoyed dairying so much I decided to stay on at the farm,” says Chris, who is the 2016 Waikato Dairy Trainee of the Year.
The 20-year-old, who began as a farm hand, and progressed to second in charge, has worked on Alan Rogers’ 190ha effective farm at Otorohanga, milking 600 jersey cows through a 44 as-ide herringbone dairy for three seasons now.
Chris has a definite aptitude for dairying, impressing the judges who as well as naming him Trainee of the Year, also awarded him the DairyNZ Practical Skills award.
“Chris showed great understanding of quad bike safety and control. His knowledge of chemical handling was quickly apparent to the judges as he flew through the second exercise. “Chris also had the initiative to step out the fenceline to find the third of a paddock, so he will be a force to be reckoned with,” the judges say.
Chris was encouraged to enter the competition for the first time by his boss Alan, who is a Primary ITO tutor and training advisor. And he appreciates Alan’s support, plus that of his family, in progressing his career.
“I thought entering would be a really beneficial experience, that it would be good for networking and good for future employment opportunities,” says Chris, who is training to become the farm’s manager.
His goals are to continue progressing in the industry through contract milking and herd ownership to eventual farm ownership. Meanwhile, he continues to gain valuable experience on Alan’s System 3 farm, where imported supplements, Palm Kernel Extract mix, silage and hay are fed to cows.
Eight hectares of maize is grown on-farm and another 8ha on the run-off. Pasture management is Chris’ responsibility and he chooses the paddocks and sets the length of the round.
Chris sets high standards for himself, always aiming to do the best he can. “The best advice I’ve had was from my previous farm manager, who said if I was given the chance of more responsibility, to take it – and I’ve tried to do that.
“Taking on more responsibility might mean more work but you will progress faster through the industry if you don’t shy away from responsibility – and that’s not a bad thing.”
Next season Chris will manage the farm he’s on and his aim is to be contract milking within three to five years.
“I want to keep learning as much as I can, and do as well as possible where I am now, and progress on the same farm to contract milker.”
Chris has completed Primary ITO Level 3 and is working on Level 4. He’s also done milk quality, tractor safety, effluent and milk smart courses and enjoys attending DairyNZ discussion groups.
When he’s not working, Chris plays rugby for the Otorohanga club and touch and netball in summer.
“Entering the dairy industry awards has been an awesome experience. I’ve met a lot of people and lots of people in the industry know me now.
“Winning looks good on the CV, which will be useful in future.”
Chris has some advice for teenagers considering career options. “Lots of people go to uni or polytechnic but don’t limit your thinking – farming offers real opportunities especially if you enjoy the outdoors.
“Do something which makes you happy – and don’t do drugs.”